Jessica and Nick Fulgham, a transgender man who is legally male in Mississippi, married in Madison County outside of Jackson, the state capital, on Sept. 18. The couple earlier this year obtained a marriage license in DeSoto County where they live.
Rev. Robby Rikard of the First Baptist Church in Lyman, a small town north of Gulfport on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, e-mailed Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association after he learned about the Fulghams’ marriage on Facebook.
Rikard appeared on Fischer’s radio program on Sept. 23.
“There are two genetic females in the state of Mississippi who did manage to obtain a marriage license,” Rikard told Fischer.
Fischer showed a copy of the couple’s marriage license several times during a live webcast of the program that did not conceal their legal names.
“We got sick to our stomachs after we watched the video,” Jessica Fulgham told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview on Monday. “It was very disturbing.”
Fischer repeatedly accused Nick Fulgham of committing fraud when obtaining a marriage license, even though he is legally a man in Mississippi. Fischer also used female pronouns to describe Nick Fulgham and called him and his spouse “lesbians” and “two genetic females.”
“She [Nick Fulgham]’s a female in every single solitary cell of her body,” said Fischer.
“We have two females that have gotten married under Mississippi law,” he added. “To me it’s biological fraud, it’s ethnical fraud, it’s legal fraud if you present yourself as a male and you’re not.”
Both Fischer and Rikard noted during the segment that Mississippi’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman passed in 2004 by an 86-14 percent margin.
“Our governor, our lieutenant governor, our state in general is very pro-traditional marriage,” Rikard told Fischer. “But this has taken place in our state. I think it needs to be challenged.”
Jessica Fulgham told the Blade that Rikard, who is her second cousin, obtained a picture of her marriage license from her Facebook page.
“I really think it’s a personal jab because I am part of his family,” she said. “He could have handled it a completely different way without putting everything out there like he did. He could have came to me and asked me about mine and Nick’s relationship, instead of going out of his way to get Bryan Fischer involved.”
Nick Fulgham told the Blade is concerned about losing his job.
“I’m fearful that the company I work for will simply fire me over this,” he said. “They won’t just come out and say hey I’m firing you because you’re transgender, but I do fear that they will create some bogus reason to fire me over the negativity that this has caused publicly.”
Nick Fulgham said he is also afraid for his safety, noting he read a comment that said a member of the Ku Klux Klan would “hang us.”
“It’s ridiculous,” said Nick Fulgham.
Mississippi LGBT rights advocates blasted Rikard and Fischer.
“The needless attacks on love by people who are supposedly serving a God of love are the most hypocritical and counterproductive moves that our opponents can make,” Jeff White, executive director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Rainbow Center, told the Blade. “Mr. Rikard has shown a complete disregard for the laws of Mississippi by calling for Christian conservatives to stand up against this marriage; while attacking his own family with his ignorance, false accusations and bigotry.”
The Mississippi Gulf Coast Rainbow Center, the Dandelion Project and other local advocacy groups are scheduled to hold a reception for the Fulghams at an LGBT community center in Hattiesburg on Oct. 25.
“It would be counter-productive to argue or picket or to even dignify this hate with any response but one of love,” Rev. Brandiilyne Dear, founder of the Dandelion Project, told the Blade. “We are going to celebrate the love and commitment that Nick and Jessica have.”
“This marriage, like any other, should be celebrated,” added White. “I hope that Mr. and Mrs. Fulgham are able to rise above this situation and continue to hold onto the love that brought them together.”
Advocacy groups have frequently criticized Fischer, who is director of issues analysis for the American Family Association, over his anti-LGBT statements. The Southern Poverty Law Center in 2010 designed the Mississippi-based organization as a hate group.
Fischer did not return the Blade’s request for comment.
Rikard told the Blade in an e-mail on Tuesday that he “never had any intentions on hurting Jessica and Nick.”
“Jessica and Nick’s marriage represents a landmark case in Mississippi,” he said. “My intentions were to make Mississippians aware, so that they could voice their concerns, if they had any, for the legality of same-sex marriage in Mississippi to their state elected officials.”
Rikard said previous reports about his comments during Fischer’s program “misrepresented the facts.” The pastor further stressed the controversy has “caused me and my family much pain and turmoil.”
“I have never had, nor do I have now any interest in destroying Jessica and Nick or anyone else in the LBGT community,” Rikard told the Blade. “Everyone is certainly entitled to do what they want in their own bedroom provided it is not illegal. Everyone is also entitled to speak out according to their convictions of what should and should not be legal.”
He ended his e-mail to the Blade with five Biblical passages that refer to the family and procreation.
“If we as Christians lose the Biblical family, we lose the fundamental method of pointing the lost world to Christ, which is what we are called to do in the Great Commission,” said Rikard. “This is why I choose to break the story.”