2014: The path towards same-sex marriage
(SSM) & marriage equality in Mississippi:
Part 3: Lawsuit Southern Equality v. Bryant.
Hearing held in District Court. Ruling issued.
Reactions to the ruling.
In this web site, the term "LGBT" refers to the Lesbian,
Bisexual and Transgender/Transsexual community.
2014-NOV-12: The hearing for Southern Equality, et. al. v. Bryant, et. al. was held in the U.S. District Court for Mississippi's Southern District:
The case was heard by U.S. District Judge Carlton W. Reeves, on 2014-NOV-12. Unfortunately for the defendants in the case, Judge Reeves has a history of valuing fundamental human rights and has had extensive work experience with various human rights organizations including the American Civil Liberties Association of Mississippi, Mississippi Workers Center for Human Rights, and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. He also received a certificate of commendation from the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice for his past work.
Emily Le Coz, writing for the Clarion-Ledger, summarized the hearing:
"[Judge] Reeves grilled the state's defense of its gay marriage ban on almost every issue raised during the roughly five hours of arguments presented in a hearing for Campaign for Southern Equality v. Phil Bryant. At the same time, he appeared sympathetic to the plaintiffs who want the ban overturned. 1
The hearings lasted for five hours. He promised to rule as soon as possible whether CSE will receive an injunction against the same-sex marriage ban, and whether he will stay that injunction if it is issued.
The Clarion-Ledger article included some paraphrased exchanges between Judge Reeves and state counsel Paul Barnes of the Attorney General's office in which Judge Reeves appears to disagree with Barnes' statements:
- Barnes: The state will fully defend its laws and the 2004 constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage that won 86 percent of the vote.
- Reeves: If that 86 percent of the people ... causes harm to a group of individuals that historically have faced discrimination, I hope the attorney general would not defend that.
- Barnes: The court should issue a stay on an eventual preliminary injunction to avoid the chaos that ensued in places like Utah where we saw an on-again-off-again gay marriage ban.
- Reeves: Or the state of Mississippi could just decide not to appeal a preliminary injunction. That, too, would prevent the type of on-again-off-again scenario it's trying to avoid.
- Barnes: Same-sex couples don't need marriage to assert their rights. They can use other legal means like deeds and wills and advanced health-care directives.
- Reeves: But that costs money, and those are all steps that opposite-sex couples don't need to take.
- Barnes: But they're viable options that allow them the same benefits available to married couples.
- Reeves: Then what's so unique about marriage to a state if everyone already has those rights? 1
On the other hand, Judge Reeves interactions with the lead plaintiffs' counsel Roberta Kaplan seemed more in agreement with her beliefs about marriage equality:
- Reeves: What evidence is there of horrible discrimination against same-sex couples in Mississippi?
- Kaplan: The fact that we're here in court today is evidence. Gay couples can't marry. Gay couples can't adopt. Gay couples don't have any of the legal safety nets available to them under marriage that everyone else enjoys.
- Reeves: How much value should the court give to statements made by legislators when determining whether the state's gay-marriage ban was motivated by bias, fear or stereotyping, in other words, impermissible animus?
- Kaplan: Supreme Court Justice Kennedy found impermissible animus in striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) simply because the word "defense" was in its title. You don't have to get into the hearts and minds of the lawmakers to determine animus. You simply need to look at the statements they've made, like the one made by then-Governor Kirk Fordice when he called same-sex marriage perverse. 1
The attorneys for both sides agreed on one matter: whichever side loses in District Court will appeal the case to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
2014-NOV-12: The Human Rights Campaign starts a pro-equality campaign in Mississippi:
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is sinking $310,000 into a campaign directed at raising awareness among the general public about the lack of equality experienced by same-sex couples and members of the LGBT community. Similar campaigns will be organized in other states in the deep South. According to U.S. News & World Repot:
"The initiative, called 'All God’s Children,' involves TV commercials, phone-banking, canvassing, online advertising and public engagement that began this week. They will join the local activist groups who have been long working for LGBT rights in the region."
2014-NOV-25: District Court Judge Carlton Reeves issues ruling on marriage equality:
Judge Reeves issued a 72 page ruling, deciding that the Mississippi's ban on marriage by same-sex couples is unconstitutional. He based his decision on the now familiar grounds of the due process and the equal protection clauses in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constititution. He placed a one-week stay on his ruling to allow the state to appeal his decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Miranda Leitsinger, writing for NBC News, said:
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves in Mississippi said the state’s gay marriage ban violated same-sex couples the rights guaranteed under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. He stayed his ruling for 14 days but also noted clerks could not issue gay marriage licenses until further guidance was given from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court (the 5th circuit is currently considering challenges to same-sex marriage bans from other states in its area). ..."
"Attorney General Jim Hood said the state would appeal the decision to the 5th Circuit and ask for a stay until that court decides the cases before it." 2
Judge Reeves wrote in his ruling:
""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."
Plaintiff Charlene Smith-Smathers, 63, who has been with her wife, Dee, 73, for almost three decades, said:
"We’re thrilled. ... Mississippi was not last. Mississippi was not last. Imagine that. And Arkansas the same day. It’s moving a great deal faster than I ever had dreamed it might. It is changing, and it is only a matter of time now." 2
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Emily Le Coz, "Analysis: Judge likely will overturn gay marriage ban," The Clarion-Ledger, 2014-NOV-13, at: http://www.clarionledger.com/
- Miranda Leitsinger, "Judges Strike Down Arkansas, Mississippi Gay Marriage Bans," NBC News, 2014-NOV-25, at: http://www.nbcnews.com/
- "Mississippi Judge Striking Down Marriage Ban Explains the Role of Courts," People for the American Way, 2014-NOV-26, at: http://blog.pfaw.org/
Copyright © 2014 & 2015 by Ontario Consultants on
Originally published: 2014-NOV-14
Last updated 2014-NOV-17
Author: Bruce A Robinson