Same-sex marriage in Mississippi

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Legal status of same-sex unions

* Not yet in effect, but automatic deadline set by judicial body for same-sex marriage to become legal

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Same-sex marriage is legal in the U.S. state of Mississippi. On November 25, 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Carlton W. Reeves of the District Court for Southern Mississippi, ruled Mississippi's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Enforcement of his ruling was stayed pending appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples is unconstitutional. On June 29, the State Attorney General ordered clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. On July 1, the Fifth Circuit lifted its stay and Judge Reeves ordered an end to Mississippi's enforcement of its same-sex marriage ban. However, until July 2, 2015, several counties in Mississippi continued to refuse to issue same-sex couple marriage licenses, including DeSoto, Jasper, Jones, Newton, Pontotoc, Simpson and Yalobusha.[1][2]

Domestic partnerships[edit]


On September 5, 2014, the Starkville City Vouncil voted 7-0 in favor of an ordinance establishing domestic partner benefits for same-sex couple city employees.[3] On January 6, 2015, the Starkville City Vouncil voted 5-2 to repeal domestic partner benefits ordinance passed in September.[4][5] On January 8, 2015, Mayor Parker Wiseman vetoed the bill.[6] On January 21, 2015, the City Counil voted 5-2 to override the Mayor's veto and repeal the domestic partnership ordinance.[7]

Same-sex marriage[edit]

In 1978, a same-sex couple was refused a marriage license. In 1994, another same-sex couple in Ocean Springs applied for and was refused a marriage license.[8]

Executive order[edit]

On August 24, 1996, Governor Kirk Fordice issued an executive order banning same-sex marriage in the state.[9]


On January 10, 1997, the Mississippi State Senate passed a bill banning same-sex marriage in the state. On February 5, 1997, the Mississippi House of Representatives passed the bill. On February 12, 1997, Governor Kirk Fordice signed the bill into law, which took immediate effect on the same day.[10]

Constitutional amendment[edit]

On March 1, 2004, the Mississippi House of Representatives, by a 97 to 17 vote, approved of Amendment 1, a constitutional amendment defining marriage as "only between a man and a woman" and denying recognition to same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions. On April 7, the Mississippi State Senate, by a 51-0 vote, approved the it, and on November 4, voters approved it with 86% of the vote.[11][12][13]


Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant[edit]

The Campaign for Southern Equality and two lesbian couples filed suit in federal district court on October 20, 2014, challenging Mississippi's statutory and constitutional denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples. Each of the couples was raising two children and one couple was previously married in Maine. Their principal attorney was Roberta Kaplan, who argued United States v. Windsor before the U.S. Supreme Court. They named as defendants in Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant the Governor and Attorney General, and the Hinds County circuit clerk who denied a marriage license to one of the plaintiff couples.[14][15] U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves held a hearing on motions for summary judgment on November 12.[16] He ruled for the plaintiffs on November 25, finding that the state's ban did not survive rational basis review. Although Fifth Circuit precedent prevented him from using a stricter standard when considering discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, he argued at length that the proper standard to use would be "heightened scrutiny" and he suggested the Fifth Circuit consider revisiting the question. He stayed his ruling for 14 days to allow the defendants to request a longer stay from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court.[17][18]

The state defendants asked the Fifth Circuit for a stay pending appeal the next day.[19] This stay was immediately opposed by the plaintiffs,[20] who also filed a motion to expedite the appeal to coincide with hearings for De Leon v. Perry and Robicheaux v. George.[21] On December 4, the Fifth Circuit agreed to expedite the case, but not to consolidate oral argument with its other same-sex marriage cases.[22] It issued a stay pending appeal the same day.[23] The Fifth Circuit heard oral argument on January 9, 2015, before Judges Patrick E. Higginbotham, Jerry E. Smith, and James E. Graves, Jr.[24]

Czekala-Chatham v. Melancon[edit]

A lesbian couple, residents of Mississippi who wed in California in 2008, asked the state to recognize their marriage in order to allow them to divorce. The lawsuit was filed in DeSoto County, in Mississippi's Third District Chancery Court in September 2013. The Mississippi Attorney General's office intervened in their divorce suit, Czekala-Chatham v. Melancon. The plaintiffs contend that "There can be no legitimate state purpose in allowing bigamous or incestuous couples to divorce and not allowing the same remedy to same-sex couples".[25] The Third District Chancery Court dismissed their case for lack of jurisdiction.[26] On appeal, the state Supreme Court has taken jurisdiction and allowed Governor Phil Bryant, represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, to intervene to support the state's position.[27] That court heard oral argument on January 21, 2015.[28] On February 24, the court, after noting that all parties agreed proceedings should be stayed pending action by the U.S. Supreme Court in related cases, asked for additional briefs. Six justices supported that request, one objected that nothing would be gained, and two objected that it was only "a delay tactic" and the court should find the state's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.[29]

On July 2, 2015, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, citing the previous week's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell, asked the court to grant the divorce he had previously opposed.[30]

On November 5, 2015, in a 5-4 ruling, the Mississippi Supreme Court remanded the case to the Third District Chancery Court in light of Obergefell. The court ruled that the plaintiffs' requested relief, which the Attorney General had already agreed, was consistent with Obergefell and thus ruled in favor of Czekala-Chatham. Forming the five-justice majority were Justices Waller, Randolph, Lamar, Chandler, and Pierce. Justices Coleman and Dickinson each joined each other's dissents, disagreeing with Obergefell and questioning the decision's constitutional authority. Justice Pierce, joined by Chandler, wrote a separate concurrence accusing Justices Coleman and Dickinson of violating their oath of office by refusing to follow a ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice King, joined by Kitchens, dissented, though they agreed Czekala-Chatham received the proper relief. Justice King wrote that, "While I am satisfied that the right result for Czekala-Chatham has been reached, I believe this Court does a great disservice to the jurisprudence of this State by reaching such result in an order, rather than issuing a precedential opinion. Consequently, I object to issuing this decision via order."[31]

On December 1, 2015, Chancellor Mitchell Lundy, Jr. granted the divorce. He apologized to Czekala-Chatham for denying the original divorce in December 2013, but explained that felt he had no other choice due to Mississippi's refusal to recognize the marriage at the time.

U.S. Supreme Court ruling[edit]

On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples is unconstitutional. Following the decision, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said: "The Supreme Court's decision is not immediately effective in Mississippi. It will become effective in Mississippi, and circuit clerks will be required to issue same-sex marriage licenses, when the 5th Circuit lifts the stay" and allow Judge Reeves' order to take effect.[32] The Governor and Lieutenant Governor attacked the ruling. State Representative Andy Gipson, chair of the Mississippi House Judiciary Committee, suggested the state should consider having "no marriage certificate sponsored by the state".[33]

The plaintiffs filed a motion the same day asking the Fifth Circuit to lift its stay of that order. Attorney General Hood did not oppose that motion, but Governor Phil Bryant did.[34]

On June 29, Hood issued an email to county clerks to clarify his earlier statement which, he wrote, "seems to have been misinterpreted as prohibiting Circuit Clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The statement was merely meant to explain that an order of the Fifth Circuit would be necessary to lift the stay." He wrote: "Obergefell is the law of the land. If a clerk has issued or decides to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple, there will be no adverse action taken by the Attorney General against that circuit clerk on behalf of the State.... On the other hand, a clerk who refuses to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple could be sued by the denied couple and may face liability."[35]

On July 1, the Fifth Circuit lifted its stay and returned the Campaign for Southern Equality case to the district court[36] where Judge Reeves ordered Mississippi and its agents to cease enforcing the state's constitutional and statutory restrictions on same-sex marriage.[37]

Subsequent changes[edit]

On June 27, 2016, a federal judge ruled that clerks in Mississippi may not recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on their religious beliefs. U.S. District Judge Carlton W. Reeves said that the recusals on religious grounds granted by the Religious Liberty Accommodations Act, violated Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.[38][39]

Public opinion[edit]

In a 2016 Public Religion Research Institute poll, Mississippi was one of the only three U.S. states where a majority of residents were opposed to same-sex marriage. The others being Arkansas and West Virginia.

Public opinion for same-sex marriage in Mississippi
Poll source Date(s)
Margin of
% support % opposition % no opinion
Public Religion Research Institute April 5-December 23, 2017 586 ? 42% 48% 10%
Public Religion Research Institute May 18, 2016-January 10, 2017 833 ? 37% 56% 7%
Public Religion Research Institute April 29, 2015-January 7, 2016 753 ? 25% 65% 10%
New York Times/CBS News/YouGov September 20 – October 1, 2014 826 likely voters ± 4.5% 29% 56% 15%
Public Policy Polling November 15–17, 2013 502 voters ± 4.4% 22% 69% 9%
Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research/Target Point Consulting June 26 – July 9, 2013 640 adults ± 3.87% 36% 55% 9%
Public Policy Polling November 4–6, 2011 796 likely voters ± 3.5% 13% 78% 9%

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Desoto county won't issue same-sex marriage licenses
  2. ^ Circuit court clerks refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses
  3. ^ Starkville becomes first Miss. city to extend domestic partner benefits to LGBT city workers
  4. ^ Starkville passes equality resolution supporting LGBT residents, others
  5. ^ Mississippi town rescinds health coverage for unmarried domestic partners
  6. ^ "Starkville mayor vetoes board's repeal of equality resolution". Archived from the original on January 16, 2015. Retrieved January 21, 2015.
  7. ^ Starkville, Mississippi Officials Override Mayor's Veto, Repeal Historic Gay-Rights Initiatives
  8. ^ "Legal Marriage Court Cases". Retrieved June 29, 2014.
  9. ^ "Mississippi Governor Bans Same-Sex Marriage". New York Times. August 24, 1996. Retrieved November 26, 2014.
  10. ^ Senate Bill 2053
  11. ^ "PROTECTING LIFE: ADHERENCE TO THE RULE OF LAW AND JUDICIAL RESTRAINT IN MISSISSIPPI" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on September 23, 2015. Retrieved November 26, 2014.
  12. ^ House Concurrent Resolution 56
  13. ^ Roberts, Joel (November 2, 2004). "11 States Ban Same-Sex Marriage". CBS News. Associated Press. Retrieved November 26, 2014.
  14. ^ "Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief". U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi. October 20, 2014. Retrieved October 20, 2014.
  15. ^ Lavers, Michael K. (October 20, 2014). "Roberta Kaplan representing plaintiffs in Miss. marriage lawsuit". Washington Blade. Retrieved October 20, 2014.
  16. ^ Foxx, Keegan (November 12, 2014). "Hearing held in lawsuit challenging Mississippi's ban on gay marriage". WAPT. Retrieved November 12, 2014.
  17. ^ Snow, Justin (November 25, 2014). "Federal judge rules Mississippi same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional". Metro Weekly. Retrieved November 25, 2014.
  18. ^ Geidner, Chris (November 25, 2014). "Mississippi's Same-Sex Marriage Ban Is Unconstitutional, Federal Judge Rules". BuzzFeed News. Retrieved November 25, 2014.
  19. ^ "State's Motion for Stay Pending Appeal". Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Retrieved November 26, 2014.
  20. ^ "Plaintiffs Opposition to Stay". Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Retrieved November 29, 2014.
  21. ^ "Plaintiffs' Motion to Expedite Appeal". Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Retrieved November 29, 2014.
  22. ^ "Order on motion to expedite". Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Retrieved December 4, 2014.
  23. ^ "Order and Opinion: Stay pending appeal granted". Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Retrieved December 4, 2014.
  24. ^ Geidner, Chris (January 9, 2015). "Federal Appeals Court Appears Poised To Strike Down Three Southern States' Same-Sex Marriage Bans". BuzzFeed News. Retrieved January 9, 2015.
  25. ^ "Some states see fight for right to same-sex divorce". Fox News. December 1, 2013. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
  26. ^ Maxey, Ron (December 2, 2013). "Judge rejects Mississippi woman's divorce request in same-sex marriage". The Commercial Appeal (Memphis). Retrieved January 18, 2014.
  27. ^ Baume, Matt (September 19, 2014). "Southern Governor Fights Same-Sex Marriage — And Lesbian Divorce". The Advocate. Retrieved September 23, 2014.
  28. ^ Amy, Jeff (January 22, 2015). "Mississippi court hears arguments over same-sex divorce". Clarion-Ledger. Retrieved February 4, 2015.
  29. ^ "En Banc Order". Supreme Court of Mississippi. Retrieved February 26, 2015.
  30. ^ Elliott Jr., Jack (July 3, 2015). "Mississippi AG: Let same-sex couple divorce". Associated Press. Retrieved July 6, 2015.
  31. ^ "LAUREN BETH CZEKALA-CHATHAM" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on November 23, 2015. Retrieved November 6, 2015.
  32. ^ "Mississippi in limbo over high-court's same-sex marriage ruling". Los Angeles Times. June 27, 2015.
  33. ^ Pender, Geoff (June 26, 2015). "Lawmaker: State could stop marriage licenses altogether". The Clarion-Ledger. Retrieved June 29, 2015.
  34. ^ "Appellees' Motion for Immediate Lifting of Stay and Issuance of Mandate". June 26, 2015.
  35. ^ Royals, Kate (June 29, 2015). "AG gives clerks OK for same-sex marriage licenses". The Clarion-Ledger. Retrieved June 29, 2015.
  36. ^ "Mississippi 5th Circuit Opinion". Equality Case Files. Retrieved July 1, 2015.
  37. ^ "Permanent Injunction" (PDF). Retrieved July 1, 2015.
  38. ^ Whitcomb, Dan (June 27, 2016). "Mississippi clerks cannot claim religious exception to gay marriage: judge". Reuters.
  39. ^ Judge: Mississippi law creates inequality for gay marriage

External links[edit]