N.C.-based group helps leads Mississippi to LGBT marriage victory

An Asheville, N.C.-based LGBT advocacy group can chalk up another grassroots victory, after its Deep South federal marriage equality case resulted in the overturning of Mississippi’s anti-LGBT marriage amendment.

On Tuesday evening, U.S. District Court Judge Carlton W. Reeves issued a ruling in Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant, striking down Mississippi’s ban.

Advocates say Reeves’ 72-page ruling is groundbreaking.

He ruled, in part:

“The Fourteenth Amendment operates to remove the blinders of inequality from our eyes. Though we cherish our traditional values, they must give way to constitutional wisdom. Mississippi’s traditional beliefs about gay and lesbian citizens led it to defy that wisdom by  taking away fundamental rights owed to every citizen. It is time to restore those rights.

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Today’s decision may cause uneasiness and concern about the change it will bring. But  “[t]hings change, people change, times change, and Mississippi changes, too.” The man who said  these words, Ross R. Barnett, Jr., knew firsthand their truth.

Mississippi continues to change in ways its people could not anticipate even 10 years  ago. Allowing same-sex couples to marry, however, presents no harm to anyone. At the very least, it has the potential to support families and provide stability for children. This court joins the vast majority of federal courts to conclude that same-sex couples and the children they raise are equal before the law. The State of Mississippi cannot deny them the marriage rights and responsibilities it holds out to opposite-sex couples and their children. Mississippi’s statute and constitutional amendment violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Reeves put his decision on hold for 14 days. Two other cases, from Texas and Louisiana, in Mississippi’s federal circuit are still pending. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has scheduled oral arguments in those cases for early January.

Defendants in the case had been represented by attorney Roberta Kaplan, who successfully represented Edith Windsor in her Supreme Court case leading to the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act.

From a release:

“Soon, families throughout this country will be gathering together to celebrate Thanksgiving. Our clients and thousands of other gay people throughout the State of Mississippi can now enjoy their turkey and pecan pie with their families thankful that a court has recognized that their government must treat them the same as everyone else. This is a big day since it means that gay Mississippians will have the right to be married in their own home state that they love so much. It is also a big day for our country and for our Constitution, since it means that Americans in yet another state can now appreciate that gay people, who are their neighbors, friends and family members, have the right to equal protection of the laws,” said lead counsel Roberta Kaplan.

“We are overjoyed that gay and lesbian families in Mississippi are finally equal under the law and that a shameful, discriminatory law has been struck down. As soon as marriages begin, gay Mississippi families will be able to conduct their lives knowing that a safety net of legal protections surrounds them, and knowing that their fundamental dignity has been affirmed by their home state,” said Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, an LGBT rights organization that works across Mississippi and is a plaintiff in the case.

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The suit was filed on Oct. 20 on behalf of two same-gender couples – Andrea Sanders and Rebecca Bickett, and Jocelyn Pritchett and Carla Webb – and the Campaign for Southern Equality.

Both of the couples have been together for at least ten years and each are raising children. Sanders and Bickett have twin 15-month-old boys and have lived in Mississippi for 15 years. They live in Pass Christian. They were seeking to marry for the first time. Pritchett and Webb are raising one son and daughter and were legally married in Maine last year. They are both native Mississippians and sought to have their marriage recognized at home. They live in Jackson.

The Campaign for Southern Equality has been active across the South since its founding just a few years ago. The group has led protests, direct actions, awareness campaigns and outreach to communities of faith, in cities both small and large, communities both rural and urban.

In North Carolina, the Campaign joined with several other plaintiffs, including couples and clergy from a variety of faith traditions, in the United Church of Christ suit which led to the Oct. 10 overturn of North Carolina’s anti-LGBT constitutional amendment.

A similar case was also decided in Arkansas on Tuesday. There, U.S. District Court Judge Kristine Baker also struck down that state’s anti-LGBT constitutional amendment.

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.