[Today’s guest post is written by Tom Lestrade of Jackson, MS]
After just two short weeks following a dramatic expansion of legalized same-sex marriages by the U.S. Supreme Court’s declination to review Federal Circuit Appeals court rulings, residents of Mississippi have initiated the first federal level lawsuit challenging Mississippi’s ban on same-sex marriage.
On October 6, 2014, the Supreme Court declined to review appeals from Virginia, Utah, Oklahoma, Indiana and Wisconsin. Virginia, which is within the 4th Circuit, along with Utah and Oklahoma within the 10th Circuit, and Wisconsin and Indiana within the 7th Circuit, all had district Federal Appeal rulings which overturned state bans on same-sex marriage. This expands the number of states and the District of Columbia to 29 that now have legal same-sex marriages. In the broader sense, each Circuit could expand their rulings to include the other states with marriage bans within the same circuits that have not yet had appeals, including South Carolina and West Virginia in the 4th Circuit with Virginia, Wyoming and Kansas in the 10th Circuit, with Utah and Oklahoma. On October 10th a federal judge had already ruled in North Carolina based on the 4th Circuit ruling, overturning the ban in that state. The total very shortly could be 35 states where same-sex marriage is legal by referendum, legislative action, or successful legal challenge.
This week, two couples have filed lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Jackson, representing the first federal-level challenge in Mississippi. The Campaign for Southern Equality has filed on behalf of partners Rebecca Bickett and Andrea Sanders, who seek to marry in Mississippi, and Joce Pritchett and Carla Webb, already married in Maine, seeking to have their marriage recognized in the state. Both couples have children, and their lawsuit claims Mississippi’s ban on same-sex marriage violates their constitutional rights to have the partners listed on their children’s birth certificates, legal adoption of partner’s children, and sharing of public employee retirement and health benefits, among other rights enjoyed by married heterosexual couples. The lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction to overturn and halt Mississippi’s ban. Governor Phil Bryant, Attorney General Jim Hood, and Hinds County Circuit Clerk Barbara Dunn are listed as defendants.
Lead attorney for the plaintiffs is Roberta Kaplan, who successfully challenged the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on behalf of Edie Windsor, in Windsor v. United States, which invalidated crucial sections of the 1996 DOMA. Mississippi resides in the 5th Circuit in New Orleans, along with Texas and Louisiana. In all likelihood, a U.S. District Court ruling in Jackson will be appealed by either plaintiffs or defendants to the 5th Circuit, which has promised to expedite hearings on cases challenging same-sex bans in Texas and Louisiana. The conservative leaning 5th Circuit is expected to uphold bans. A ruling to uphold state bans in the 5th Circuit would conflict with at least the 4th and 10th Circuits, and previous 9th Circuit (which includes California, Nevada, Arizona) would likely force a review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
It’s going to be a long, uphill battle for arguably the most conservative district in the country, but the fight for marriage equality in Mississippi has officially begun!
Tom Lestrade is a native of Biloxi, Mississippi, residing in Jackson since 1998. He’s an electrical engineering graduate of Mississippi State University working in telecommunications, and a graduate of the Integrated Musical Theatre Program at the American Musical Dramatic Academy, NYC. Tom is active with many Metro Jackson community & professional theaters.