Just south of the Mason-Dixon line there is a place cemented in time — welcome to Mississippi. This is where folks wave as they pass by on the road, laws protect the majestic magnolia trees, and sweet tea is the house wine. Down here people take pride in their heritage, which includes, but is not limited to, their “young’uns,” their pick-up trucks and their church. Although living in the Deep South has its charms, there are giants in the land that many continue to fight. Those giants include discrimination, close mindedness and racism.
Religion, the mother of all giants, is such an intricate part of the tapestry that is the south. Many of us were raised on a church pew and have been instructed on the laws of God. These laws were very clear, love God, respect your momma, don’t mix races, and homosexuality is the unpardonable sin. Many of these laws were never spoken aloud. They were just understood as the laws of the land, the foundation of southern heritage, and statues that would never change. Until June 26, 2015.
These southern regulations were so deeply engrained in my own identity that I did not accept my sexuality until I was 37. As soon as I broke free from religious misconceptions, I quickly founded The Dandelion Project, an LGBT advocacy group, and Joshua Generation MCC (Metropolitan Community Church), a radically inclusive church. These things were unheard of in southern Mississippi. We joined forces with others across the state and began to fight to tear down some of these decrees that were not only causing people harm, but were denying them equal rights. So when the ruling from the Supreme Court came down we rushed to the courthouse; this was one of the most surreal moments of my life.
Only minutes after the decision, there I stood, a lesbian pastor, on the steps of the Forrest County courthouse officiating, not only the first same-sex marriage in the state of Mississippi, but this was an interracial couple as well. As I prayed over the newlyweds, Amber Hamilton and Annice Smith, it was as if I could see many of those giants begin to fall. The social climate was changing right before my eyes. That was a victorious moment as we began breaking free from the “Old South” and her heritage. I wrapped my arms around Amber and Annice and we wept. We not only made history, but we overcame it!
There were more couples that began to come in that day to apply for a marriage license; only two more were issued. The fourth couple was denied. This giant was not going down easily. We were soon forced to halt all ceremonies; it was devastating. But there was no way that we were going to stop fighting now.
Despite the delays on Friday, we got the all-clear early on Monday and quickly rushed back to the courthouse where same-sex marriages resumed. The couples that were denied on Friday were first in line, each afraid that this window of opportunity would close as it had seemingly always done before. I have since, in less than one week, had the honor of officiating nearly 20 same-sex ceremonies from all walks of life. Some have waited three years to marry the one they love, while others have been waiting 30. However, whether 3 years or 30, we have waited a lifetime to overcome discrimination, bigotry, and the “heritage” that haunts the South.
Although the laws of the land have indeed changed and same-sex couples can now partake in the constitutional right of marriage, minds are not so easily swayed. There is still work that has to be done. We have made progress, albeit slow, we have progressed nonetheless.
As with any place, there are positives and negatives of living in Mississippi, but as things go here in the South, slowly and surely as the biscuits are rising in the oven on Sunday morning, the positive is overcoming the negative. I can still hear the faint echo of the old southern mantra, “the South shall rise again!” I’m not so sure she has ever been on top, but today I am certain that she is now rising freer from bigotry and hate because times, well, “they are a changing.” “Y’all come back now, ya hear?”
Rev. Brandiilyne (BB) Dear is founder of the Dandelion Project.