August 12, 2014 at 2:52 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Miss. same-sex couples hope to record marriages

Mississippi, Washington Blade

Jennifer and Jena Pierce of Biloxi, Miss., hope to record their Connecticut marriage with the Harrison County Chancery Court on Wednesday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Same-sex couples from across Mississippi on Wednesday will try to record their out-of-state marriages in eight counties across the state.

The Campaign for Southern Equality, a North Carolina-based LGBT advocacy group, is organizing the actions that will take place in Amite, Desoto, Hancock, Harrison, Hinds, Lafayette, Lamar and Pearl River Counties.

Dee Smith-Smathers, who married her wife of nearly 29 years, Charlene Smith-Smathers, in Massachusetts last year, hopes she will be able to record her marriage at Hinds County Chancery Court in Jackson, the state capital.

“We think we’ve got everything covered with powers of attorney of this sort and that sort, but you never know,” Dee Smith-Smathers, who turns 73 next week, told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview from her home outside of Terry as she discussed why she and her wife plan to take part in the campaign. “It’s important to us on a personal level and it’s important to me.”

Jennifer Pierce of Biloxi, who married her wife, Jena Pierce, in Connecticut last December, plan to try to record their marriage with the Harrison County Chancery Court in Gulfport.

“To us our marriage license is more than a piece of paper or even the state recognizing we are a legitimate couple,” Jennifer Pierce told the Blade, referring to their 6-year-old daughter Auna who began first grade last week. “It’s about the protection of the little girl who sees us as her parents and getting legally married was the first step of many we need to take towards the protection and well-being of our family.”

Mississippi voters in 2004 overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage.

Waveland Mayor David Garcia last month became the first mayor in the state to publicly back nuptials for gays and lesbians.

Yazoo City Mayor Diane Delaware told the Blade during an exclusive interview on July 10 that she has “no problem” with marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“It is very important for us to show that there are couples and families here who are suffering due to the immoral laws that ban us from being recognized as citizens of this state,” Jeff White of Waveland, who is president of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Rainbow Center, a local LGBT advocacy and support group, told the Blade on Tuesday. “For these couples to be able to have their marriage recorded at their county courthouse, even in this small way, is a giant step towards full recognition.”

The Campaign for Southern Equality has conducted several actions in Mississippi as part of its ongoing efforts to raise awareness of marriage rights for same-sex couples in the South. These include gays and lesbians applying for marriage licenses in Hattiesburg and other cities across the Magnolia State.

The Campaign for Southern Equality was also involved in efforts against a state law that took effect last month that opponents contend allows businesses to discriminate against LGBT people because of their religious beliefs.

“Couples are recording their marriage licenses to create a public record of their love and commitment,” said Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality. “LGBT people in Mississippi and other Southern states simply cannot keep waiting for equality. There is an urgent need for legal protections for families and individuals in Mississippi, and so we are calling for laws to change as quickly as possible to ensure that, no matter what state you live in, you are treated as a full and equal citizen.”

The Mississippi couples will seek to record their out-of-state marriages less than a week after Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to consider a case challenging his state’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and attorneys representing Tulsa County (Okla.) Court Clerk Sally Howe Smith earlier this month also petitioned the justices to hear cases challenging their respective state’s same-sex marriage bans after the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld previous rulings that found them unconstitutional.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati on August 6 heard oral arguments in lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott late last month filed an appeal with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans that seeks to overturn a federal judge’s February ruling that struck down his state’s gay nuptials ban.

A county judge in Tennessee on Tuesday upheld his state’s same-sex marriage ban.

Dee Smith-Smathers told the Blade she feels a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples is the only way she and other gays and lesbians in Mississippi will be able to legally exchange vows in their state.

“It’s going to have to be done through the courts,” she said.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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