A federal judge on Tuesday struck down Mississippi’s same-sex marriage ban.
U.S. District Judge Carlton W. Reeves issued his 72-page ruling less than two weeks after he heard oral arguments in the case the Campaign for Southern Equality last month filed on behalf of two lesbian couples seeking marriage rights in the Magnolia State.
“The court concludes that Mississippi’s same-sex marriage ban deprives same-sex couples and their children of equal dignity under the law,” writes Reeves. “Gay and lesbian citizens cannot be subjected to such second-class citizenship.”
Reeves, an African American who President Obama appointed to the federal bench in 2010, referenced the civil rights movement throughout his decision.
The judge wrote those who supported segregation in Mississippi described their opponents “racial perverts.”
Reeves noted the Ku Klux Klan linked gays and other groups to “fornicators and liberals and angry blacks.” He noted Bayard Rustin and other prominent gay civil rights advocates faced harassment because of their sexual orientation.
Reeves in his decision also noted Mississippi lawmakers earlier this year approved a measure — Senate Bill 2681 — that opponents contend allows business owners to deny services to LGBT people based on their religious beliefs.
SB 2681 took effect on July 1.
“Discrimination against gay and lesbian Mississippians is not ancient history,” writes Reeves.
Mississippi law bans gay nuptials, but voters in 2004 overwhelming approved a state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. It also prohibits Mississippi officials from recognizing same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions.
Roberta Kaplan, who successfully argued against the Defense of Marriage Act before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013, is the lead counsel in the Campaign for Southern Equality case.
Justin Matheny in a brief he filed on behalf of Gov. Phil Bryant and Attorney General Jim Hood repeatedly stressed the marriage amendment and statutory ban on gay marriages “speak for themselves.”
Gays and lesbians are able to legally marry in 35 states and D.C.
More than 30 judges have ruled in favor of nuptials for gays and lesbians since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of DOMA in its landmark Windsor decision.
“This court joins the vast majority of federal courts to conclude that same-sex couples and the children they raise are equal before the law,” writes Reeves. “The state of Mississippi cannot deny them the marriage rights and responsibilities. It holds out to opposite-sex couples and their children.”
LGBT rights advocates praise ruling
Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, in a statement said her organization is “overjoyed that gay and lesbian families in Mississippi are finally equal under the law and that a shameful, discriminatory law has been struck down.”
“As soon as marriages begin, gay Mississippi families will be able to conduct their lives knowing that a safety net of legal protections surrounds them, and knowing that their fundamental dignity has been affirmed by their home state,” she said.
Rev. Brandiilyne Dear, founder of the Dandelion Project, a support group for LGBT people in the Mississippi Pine Belt, had a similar reaction.
“Today is the day that we have all fought for, prayed for and thought would never come,” she told the Washington Blade. “Today we are equal. This is the day that many have died for and I am so grateful that I have lived to see it.”
Mitchell Moore, owner of Campbell’s Bakery in Jackson who helped launch a campaign against SB 2681, agreed.
“I thought Mississippi would be last again,” he told the Blade. “I thought this would happen after all other states or sometime in the next 5 to 10 years. I’ve never been happier to be wrong.”
Reeves stayed his ruling for two weeks, pending a likely appeal.
Hood in a statement his office sent to the Blade on Wednesday said he will appeal Reeves’ ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which is scheduled to hear oral arguments in same-sex marriage cases from Texas and Louisiana on Jan. 9.
“The Office of Attorney General has a statutory duty to argue the constitutionality of our laws,” said Hood. “We will appeal the decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and ask for a stay until that court decides the cases presently pending before it.”