A federal judge on Wednesday heard oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging Mississippi’s same-sex marriage ban.
Attorney Roberta Kaplan argued before U.S. District Court Judge Carlton W. Reeves during the 6-hour hearing that took place in Jackson, Miss., that the state’s constitutional amendment defining marriage between a man and a woman causes “irreparable harm” to same-sex couples.
Kaplan — who successfully argued against the Defense of Marriage Act before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 — urged Reeves, who President Obama appointed to the bench, to immediately strike down the marriage amendment and Mississippi’s statutory ban on nuptials for gays and lesbians.
The Clarion-Ledger reported Justin Matheny, who defended the marriage bans on behalf of Gov. Phil Bryant and the other defendants named in the lawsuit, struggled during the hearing.
“When I found out I would be the one to come to court and argue this case, I had to do some research,” said Matheny, as the Clarion-Ledger reported.
Rebecca Bickett and Andrea Sanders of Harrison County on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and Jocelynn Pritchett and Carla Webb of Jackson are the lead plaintiff couples in the lawsuit the Campaign for Southern Equality, a North Carolina-based advocacy group, filed last month.
Bickett and Sanders have been together for a decade and are raising twin boys. Pritchett and Webb, who legally married in Maine last year, have been together for 11 years and have two young children.
The plaintiffs were among those who attended the oral arguments.
Jena Pierce of Biloxi, who married her wife, Jennifer Pierce, in Connecticut last year, told the Washington Blade in a telephone interview that Reeves’ wife was among those who were in the courtroom.
Jena Pierce, who has a young daughter with her spouse, said Reeves repeatedly asked Matheny about children in Mississippi who need to be adopted.
“He was saying these things and I’m bawling,” Jena Pierce told the Blade. “It was the most emotional day since I got married. There wasn’t enough tissues in the courtroom.”
Eddie Outlaw and Justin McPherson, a gay couple in Jackson who legally married in California last year, hosted a party for same-sex marriage supporters and LGBT advocates after the oral arguments.
‘Today was like Disneyland’ for LGBT Mississippians
Mississippi voters in 2004 overwhelmingly approved their state’s marriage amendment.
Matheny in a brief he filed on behalf of Bryant and Attorney General Jim Hood on Monday repeatedly stressed the marriage amendment and statutory ban on gay marriages “speak for themselves.”
Kaplan did not immediately return the Blade’s request for comment after the hearing.
Gays and lesbians are currently able to legally marry in 32 states and D.C.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday said same-sex couples can begin to marry in Kansas.
More than three dozen federal and local judges have ruled in favor of nuptials for gays and lesbians since the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2013 struck down a portion of DOMA.
U.S. District Judge Richard Mark Gergel on Wednesday ruled South Carolina’s same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, basing his ruling on the legal precedent established by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Attorney General Alan Wilson later said he would “immediately appeal” the decision to the federal appeals court in Richmond, Va.
Lawyers representing gay couples who are seeking marriage rights in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee plan to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to consider their respective cases after a three-judge panel with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati earlier this month ruled against them.
U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman in September ruled Louisiana’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage between a man and a woman is constitutional. U.S. District Judge Juan Pérez-Giménez last month upheld Puerto Rico’s gay nuptials prohibition.
Reeves at the end of the hearing on Wednesday said he will issue his ruling “as soon as possible.”
Pritchett told the Blade last month during a telephone interview that she feels “every little tiny step” towards marriage rights for same-sex couples is “huge” for LGBT Mississippians.
“Today was like Disneyland for gay adults,” Jena Pierce told the Blade on Wednesday. “It was just the best day of being gay in Mississippi. It was absolutely phenomenal.”