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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
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Mississippi Sued Over Same-Sex Marriage Ban

JACKSON, Miss. (CN) - An LGBT rights group and two same-sex couples sued Mississippi in federal court on Monday, challenging the state's ban on gay marriage.

Plaintiffs Becky Bickett and Andrea Sanders are a long-time couple that would like to marry in Mississippi. They have been together 10 years and are raising adopted twin sons together.

Jocelyn Pritchett and Carla Webb, who were legally married in Maine last year, also sued, because they their marriage to be recognized in Mississippi. They also have two children, but their situation is different from the other plaintiffs because Pritchett carried the children.

That means under Mississippi law she has parental rights that are denied to Webb.

The state domestic relations law bans gay marriage, and after other states began recognizing such unions in 2003, Mississippi amended its constitution to reinforce already existing state law.

The 2004 amendment states: "Marriage may take place and may be valid under the laws of this state only between a man and a woman. A marriage in another state or foreign jurisdiction between persons of the same gender, regardless of when the marriage took place, may not be recognized in this state and is void and unenforceable under the laws of this state."

The current lawsuit, filed on behalf of the aforementioned plaintiffs and the Campaign for Southern Equality, names Gov. Phil Bryant, state Attorney General Jim Hood and Hinds County Circuit Clerk Barbara Dunn as defendants.

"Mississippi's constitution and statutory provisions arbitrarily discriminate against gay couples, effectively writing inequality into Mississippi law. As a consequence, a discrete but substantial minority of gay citizens in Mississippi suffer from grave deprivation of their rights, in violation of the guarantees of both equal protection and due process as applicable to the states by virtue of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution," the complaint states.

"This clearly unequal treatment not only demeans the dignity of gay couples' commitments to one another but also has great practical significance for them and their families. Under the United States Constitution, it is now clear that such discrimination is quite simply impermissible," it continues.

The state's same-sex marriage ban prevents two gay people from being legal parents to adopted children, stops gay partners from joining in insurance plans, and disqualifies a gay person from making medical decisions on behalf of their partner, the complaint says.

It also excludes gay partners from estate succession and wrongful death benefits, and prohibits same-sex couples from enjoying tax exemptions and credits given to married couples.

"Gay people have endured a long and painful history of popular and state-sponsored discrimination within the United States, including within Mississippi," the complaint states. "This discrimination is based solely on their sexual orientation. It bears no relationship to their ability to contribute to society at large."

The plaintiffs seek a declaration that Mississippi state law violates the U.S. Constitution.

They are represented by Roberta Kaplan of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York.

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