Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage: Will Mississippi Join the Movement?

The Supreme Court’s momentous decision to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act seemed to open the floodgates on the push for marriage equality.  Currently, fourteen states plus the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage.  Some of these legalizations are quite recent, with Minnesota and Rhode Island becoming the 12th and 13th states to legalize gay marriage in August, and New Jersey just a few months later, in October.  Illinois will become the 15th state by November 20th, if all goes as planned, and Hawaii may join the list any day now.  Additionally, New Mexico, which is the only state to have no laws either allowing or banning same-sex marriage, may soon legalize same-sex marriage.

Suffice to say, the list of states abolishing previous bans on same-sex marriage and legalizing the institution is growing by the day.  While the tides of change seem to be sweeping much of the nation, there has been little talk of legalizing same-sex marriage in Mississippi.  The recent case of Lauren Beth Czekala-Chatham, who is married to a same-sex partner and seeking a divorce in Mississippi, brought the issue of same-sex divorce to the front of the headlines in our state.  However, Czekala-Chatham and her attorney were quick to assure the court and the public that they were not seeking to advance gay marriage in the state, merely to be able to divorce.

Nearly 10 years ago, in 2004, Mississippi voters passed a ban on same-sex marriages.  At the time, 85% of voters supported the ban.  Recent polling, however, reveals that attitudes in the state are changing.  New bipartisan polling from the Human Rights Campaign found that 58% of Mississippi residents under the age of 30 favor gay marriage.  In the above 30 crowd, 55% objected to same-sex marriage.  While the public opinion does not seem to be strong enough yet to persuade legislative action, it is clear views are shifting.

Recently, the Southern Equality campaign swung through the state.  Several same-sex couples attempted to obtain marriage licenses, including an Air Force Reserve member, and were turned away.  Showing its continued support for the gay marriage ban, Mississippi declined to grant full benefits to troops in same-sex marriages.  Due to the constitutional ban, Mississippi stated that same-sex spouses could apply for benefits on federally owned property but not property owned by the state.  This decision is in defiance of a Defense Department directive granting full benefits to same-sex marriage spouses of troops.

Advocates of same-sex marriage are hard at work bringing change to the state.  The Human Rights Campaign president, Chad Griffin, expressed optimism that Mississippi and the rest of the deep South would change their laws to legalize the same-sex marriage institution.  Griffin stated that numerous cases were being filed, and many already filed, since the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, the precedent setting DOMA case, challenging Mississippi’s constitutional ban on gay marriage.

There are three ways that same-sex marriage could become legal in Mississippi.  The first would be through judicial action, which is what Griffin alluded to fighting for.  Next would be by constitutional amendment.  Just as the state voted to add the ban in 2004, an amendment could be placed on the ballot requesting appeal of the ban.  Finally, the legislature could pass a same-sex marriage amendment.

All things considered, it appears Mississippi may not join the ranks of gay marriage friendly states anytime too soon.  While polling numbers reveal a shift in attitudes, they do not show enough support passage of a constitutional amendment.  However, it seems like that if public opinion continues to swell in favor of same-sex marriage, Mississippi will eventually accept the institution.

Call For Your Free Initial Consultation

If you have any questions about same-sex marriage or same-sex divorce in Mississippi, call The Law Office of Matthew S. Poole today at (601) 573-7429.   He will take the time you need to advise you of your legal rights and options, and help you determine the best course of action in your case.

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