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News Non-profit, couples file lawsuit against Mississippi

Non-profit, couples file lawsuit against Mississippi


Caption: Source: Human Rights Campaign, ProCon.org  In the U.S., 32 states have legal same-sex marriage and 18 states prohibit it. Mississippi constitutionally bans same-sex marriage. – Infographic by Cody Bass/The Student Printz

On Oct. 20, a lawsuit was filed against Mississippi due to its provisions and statutes that deny gay couples the right of marriage and deny formal recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The plaintiffs of the case are petitioning Section 263A of Article 14 of the Mississippi Constitution and Section 93-1-1(2) of the Mississippi Code. They believe that these violate the 14th Amendment, which guarantees due process and equal protection for citizens of the United States. Of the five plaintiffs in the case, the first is the Campaign for Southern Equality. This group is a non-profit corporation based in North Carolina. According to the official case file, the corporation’s mission is to promote the full humanity and equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in America. The second and third plaintiffs are Rebecca “Becky” Bickett and Andrea Sanders.

The couple has resided in Mississippi for roughly 15 years. Both graduated from The University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast campus and have recently celebrated their 10th anniversary. Together, Bickett and Sanders have 15-month-old twins, Owen and Adrian.

“By standing up for our rights and the right of our family, we are showing that we are just like any other family,” Sanders said. “We have kids, have debts, go to school, pay taxes, get sick and love each other through everything.”

In March 2014, Bickett and Sanders sought to obtain and were denied a marriage license from Hinds County circuit clerk Barbara Dunn.

The last two plaintiffs are Carla Webb and Jocelyn “Joce” Pritchett. They currently reside in Hinds County. The couple has been together for 11 years and was married in Maine in 2013.

Like Sanders and Bickett, the pair has two children as well. Their marriage is not recognized in Mississippi, and because of this, the couple has faced difficult issues financially and parentally.

Representing the state are defendants Gov. Phil Bryant, Attorney General Jim Hood and Barbara Dunn, the circuit clerk of Hinds County.

Paul, Weis, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison LLP, a law firm located in New York City, is representing the above plaintiffs. The lead counsel in this case is Roberta Kaplan.

Kaplan previously argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of Edith Windsor. In United States v. Windsor, the court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violated the U.S. Constitution.

According to DOMA, states could deny recognition of marriages granted under the laws of another state. The decision of this case has been a leading example in cases across the country concerning the issue of same-sex marriage.

Kaplan was brought to this case when she attended a convention in Asheville, North Carolina earlier this fall. There she met many women who were members of the Campaign for Southern Equality. Kaplan was later contacted by the corporation’s executive director Reverend Jasmine Beach-Ferrara.

Beach-Ferrara knew of the issues the two couples had faced and wished to bring the case of same-sex marriage to Mississippi.

“This case is about treating your neighbor the best that you can,” Kaplan said.

From there, they filed for a preliminary injunction, which allows this case to hold the decision of same-sex marriage for the entire state. The preliminary injunction was granted by the court.

On Nov. 12, Judge Carlton Reeves will hold an oral argument over the motion at the U.S. district court in Jackson.

Many students and members of the Hattiesburg LGBTQ community await the decision.

Former student Zack Arbogast is a gay, transgender male born and raised in Mississippi.

“There is still a lot of work to be done before I know I am legally safe in Mississippi,” Arbogast said. “Marriage equality is a step in that direction.”

Southern Miss is also home to the Gay-Straight Alliance, an organization that works to promote equality on campus. Taylor Vines is the executive chair of the group’s council.

On the case, Vines said, “I think the governor and the attorney general will appeal any decision in our favor and send it (to) the Fifth Circuit.”

Some groups such as the American Family Association are in opposition of same-sex marriage.

Patrick Vaughan, the legal counsel for AFA, said their group feels that marriage is an institution created to produce a family and that the “deconstruction of marriage” is a high price to pay for equality.

“We are at an interesting crossroads,” Vaughan said.

For more information on the case, visit the Campaign for Southern Equality website. The general public is also welcomed and encouraged to attend the hearing on Nov. 12 in Jackson.

Mary Sergeant
Writer and Photographer for the Student Printz at the University of Southern Mississippi

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