WAVELAND, Miss. — The mayor of a small city on the Mississippi Gulf Coast has become the first mayor in the state to publicly support marriage rights for same-sex couples.
“I understand that the strength and health of our cities are enhanced when all families are protected and supported,” said Waveland Mayor David Garcia in a press release that Freedom to Marry issued on Wednesday as part of its campaign in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples in the South. “We know many people in loving and committed same-sex relationships who are active participants in improving our communities and we’ve seen how important marriage has been for them and their families. Because I believe in fairness for all American families, I support the freedom to marry for same-sex couples willing to take on that commitment.”
Garcia, a Democrat, took office in 2010.
The former chief of the Waveland Fire Department also has a gay brother.
Jeff White-Perkins, president of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Lesbian and Gay Community Center, a local LGBT advocacy and support group, lives in Waveland with his partner of two years, John Perkins, who grew up in the city.
They told the Washington Blade during an interview at a Mexican restaurant in nearby Gulfport on Monday that they had requested a meeting with Garcia last week to discuss the issue. White-Perkins said his secretary told him and Perkins — who last year became the first gay male couple to apply for a marriage license in Mississippi — when they arrived at Waveland City Hall that the mayor had already announced his position.
“Honestly because it’s him I knew he would,” White-Perkins told the Blade.
Brandiilyne Dear, co-founder of the Dandelion Project, an LGBT support group she runs out of her home in Laurel, a city that is slightly less than two hours north of Waveland on Interstate 59, told the Blade she is “very proud” of Garcia.
“It is admirable that he standing up for equality,” said Dear. “I applaud him for being on the right side of history.”
A state constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage passed in 2004 by an 86-14 percent margin. A lesbian couple from Southaven, which is a suburb of Memphis, Tenn., in DeSoto County, who legally married in California last September asked the state to recognize their marriage so they could file for divorce.
A law that Mississippi advocates maintain allows business owners to deny services to LGBT people based on their religious beliefs took effect on July 1.
Dear told the Blade she feels Garcia’s announcement will prompt other Mississippi mayors to publicly support marriage rights for same-sex couples.
“He will inspire others and encourage them to take a stand against hate,” said Dear. “Times they are a changin’ and Mayor Garcia is changin’ with the times. Everyone else is going to be left behind.”
Waveland, which has a population of slightly less than 6,700, is located in Hancock County near the Louisiana border.
Hurricane Katrina’s nearly 30-foot storm surge inundated Waveland and other cities and towns along the Mississippi Gulf Coast in August 2005 when it made landfall.
“Good Morning America” co-anchor Robin Roberts, who came out as a lesbian late last year, grew up in nearby Pass Christian.