Federal Judge Strikes Down Mississippi Marriage Ban

by Charles Joughin

Road to full equality for LGBT people remains a challenge

WASHINGTON—Today U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ruled in favor of equality, striking down Mississippi’s discriminatory constitutional amendment banning same-sex couples from marrying.  Attorney Roberta Kaplan represented two plaintiff couples on behalf of Campaign for Southern Equality, arguing that Mississippi’s marriage ban violates the U.S. Constitution.  Kaplan successfully argued United States v. Windsor against the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) before the Supreme Court of the United States last year.  The Supreme Court’s ruling in that case has been cited in every state and federal court decision striking down state marriage bans since.  Another case challenging the state marriage ban filed in state court – Czekala-Chatham v. Melancon – is on appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court after a judge denied a same-sex couple’s divorce petition, citing the state’s ban on recognition of out-of-state marriages between same-sex couples.  This evening’s ruling comes just hours after a federal judge in Arkansas struck down that state’s ban on marriage equality.

“Judge Reeves’ ruling today affirms what we already know to be true – that all loving, committed Mississippi couples should have the right to marry,” said HRC Mississippi director Rob Hill. “However, there is still much to be done to advance equality here in the Magnolia State. For thousands of LGBT Mississippians, the reality remains that we risk being fired from over jobs, kicked out of our homes or refused service simply because of who we are and who we love—that’s not right. HRC Mississippi is here to ensure all Mississippians are treated with dignity and respect.”

The state now has the option to appeal today’s ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which already has two marriage equality cases pending before it.  In DeLeon v. Perry, a federal district court judge granted a motion for preliminary injunction barring the state of Texas from enforcing its ban on marriage equality. And in Robicheaux v. Caldwell a federal district court judge upheld Louisiana’s ban on marriage equality on September 3, 2014.  This was the first time a federal court ruled in favor of a marriage ban since the Supreme Court of the United States struck down key portions of DOMA the previous year.  Both of those rulings have been appealed to the Fifth Circuit and oral arguments have tentatively been scheduled for early January 2015.

The Supreme Court of the United States has pending before it marriage cases out of four states from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, after a three-judge panel of that court overturned lower court rulings that had found Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee’s same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional.  The Sixth Circuit ruling marked the first time a federal appeals court ruled in favor of state marriage bans. Previously the Supreme Court declined to take up challenges to rulings from the Fourth, Seventh and Tenth Circuits, which all found state marriage bans unconstitutional.  Attorneys for the case on appeal to the Fifth Circuit out of Louisiana are appealing their case directly to the Supreme Court as well. The Supreme Court is under no obligation as to which case or cases - if any - it chooses to hear on appeal, although the loss in the Sixth Circuit creates a circuit court split, increasing the likelihood the Supreme Court takes up the issue of marriage.

Earlier this month HRC announced a groundbreaking public education campaign that aims to strengthen the foundation of public support for LGBT Mississippians, aid in the passage of pro-equality legislation, and bolster efforts to win marriage equality for Mississippi’s gay and lesbian couples. Placing faith at the center of the effort, All God’s Children is a $310,000 campaign that’s built around four consecutive weeks of television ads in the Magnolia State—2,000 gross rating points in total—and will be amplified by robust direct mail, phone banking operations, telephone town halls, billboards, online advertising and conversations taking place door-to-door.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. HRC envisions a world where LGBT people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.


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