October 20, 2014 at 5:39 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Roberta Kaplan representing plaintiffs in Miss. marriage lawsuit

Robbie Kaplan, Roberta Kaplan, GLAD, DOMA, gay news, Washington Blade

Roberta Kaplan successfully argued against the Defense of Marriage Act before the U.S. Supreme Court (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

The lawyer who successfully argued against the Defense of Marriage Act before the U.S. Supreme Court is now representing two lesbian couples in a federal lawsuit against Mississippi’s gay nuptials ban filed on Monday.

Roberta Kaplan is the lead counsel in the case brought by Rebecca Bickett and Andrea Sanders of Harrison County and Jocelynn Pritchett and Carla Webb of Jackson who are seeking marriage rights in the Magnolia State. The Campaign for Southern Equality, a North Carolina-based advocacy group, is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

Bickett and Sanders, who live along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, have been together for 10 years and are raising twin boys.

The two women first lived together in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their families’ homes. The lawsuit notes their “first home together” was a trailer from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Bickett and Sanders tried to apply for a marriage license in Hinds County in March, but officials denied their request.

Pritchett and Webb have been together for 11 years and are raising their 6-year-old daughter Grace and their 2-year-old son Ethan.

The two women married in Maine last year, but Mississippi does not recognize their marriage.

“These constitutional provisions and statutes deny gay couples and their families the dignity enjoyed by other Mississippians,” reads the lawsuit. “They also deny gay couples a huge number of significant and concrete rights, benefits and duties that automatically come with marriage.”

Pritchett told the Washington Blade on Monday during a telephone interview that a fertility clinic in Mississippi would not treat her because she and Webb “were not a straight married couple.” Pritchett said another doctor also refused.

“We ended up having to go out of state to get pregnant,” she told the Blade. “It was really hard and really, really expensive because we had to miss a lot of work.”

Gov. Phil Bryant, Attorney General Jim Hood and Hinds County Circuit Clerk Barbara Dunn are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Hood’s office did not immediately return the Blade’s request for comment.

Mississippi voters in 2004 overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment that not only defines marriage as between a man and a woman but prohibits the recognition of gay nuptials legally performed in other jurisdictions.

Bryant earlier this year signed into a law a measure that critics say allows business owners to refuse to serve LGBT people based on their religious beliefs. Pritchett and Webb are among the local advocates who organized a campaign against Senate Bill 2681 that took effect in July.

The American Family Association, which is based in Tupelo, Miss., is among the groups that continue to oppose efforts to extend marriage and other rights to LGBT Mississippians.

A small, but growing number of advocates and their supporters in recent months have publicly supported LGBT rights.

Waveland Mayor David Garcia in July became the first Mississippi mayor to publicly back marriage rights for same-sex couples. Yazoo City Mayor Diane Delaware in the same month told the Blade she has “no problem” with gay nuptials.

Marriage advances ‘huge’ for gay Mississippi couples

Same-sex couples can now legally marry in 32 states and D.C.

More than 30 state and federal judges have ruled in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 struck down a portion of DOMA in its landmark Windsor decision.

The justices earlier this month declined to hear same-sex marriage cases from Virginia, Wisconsin, Indiana, Oklahoma and Utah.

A Mississippi judge last December denied a lesbian couple’s request to recognize their California marriage in order to receive a divorce. The two women have appealed the decision to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

“The Supreme Court has made it clear that no matter where a gay person lives — whether it is in Maine, Minnesota, or Mississippi — our Constitution requires that they be treated with the same dignity and respect under the law as everyone else,” said Kaplan in a Campaign for Southern Equality press release.

Eddie Outlaw, a gay Jackson hair salon owner who married his husband, Justin McPherson Outlaw, in California last year, worked with Pritchett and Webb on the campaign against SB 2681.

Eddie Outlaw on Monday described the women as “incredible people, wonderful parents and extraordinary Mississippians.”

“I’ve watched them make some tough decisions over the last several months on behind more visible and vocal for Mississippi’s LGBT community while weighing the cost to their family time,” he told the Blade. “These women are the epitome of strength of character and courage.”

U.S. District Judge Carlton W. Reeves, who President Obama appointed to the federal bench, and Magistrate Judge Linda Anderson have been assigned the case.

Pritchett told the Blade that “every little tiny step” towards marriage rights for same-sex couples” is “huge” for her and other LGBT Mississippians.

“We’re feeling more empowered, the LGBT community,” she said. “We’re seeing what’s going on around the country and we’re feeling more empowered to just live and be ourselves.”

Jocelyn Pritchett, Carla Webb, Mississippi, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

From left; Jocelyn Pritchett and Carla Webb of Jackson, Miss., with their children are one of two plaintiff couples in a federal lawsuit against Mississippi’s same-sex marriage ban. (Photo courtesy of Campaign for Southern Equality)

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

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