Mississippi officials seek to uphold ban on same-sex marriage

Mississippi state capitol in Jackson.

Mississippi state capitol in Jackson.

JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi‘s Republican governor and Democratic attorney general are asking a federal judge to uphold the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Mississippi state capitol in Jackson.

Mississippi state capitol in Jackson.

The state made the request in court papers Monday, responding to a lawsuit filed Oct. 20 in U.S. District Court in Jackson by two lesbian couples and a gay-rights group, Campaign for Southern Equality.

The lawsuit seeks to overturn the ban, saying Mississippi violates constitutional rights of gays and lesbians and denies same-sex couples the “rights, benefits and duties that automatically come with marriage.”

Gov. Phil Bryant and Attorney General Jim Hood responded that the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears cases from Mississippi and two other states, has not recognized gays and lesbians as a group with specific civil-rights protections. Because of that, there is no reason for a federal district judge to give “heightened scrutiny” to claims of bias.

“Mississippi’s traditional marriage laws do not discriminate,” Bryant and Hood said in court papers Monday.

In November 2004, Mississippi voters approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being only between one man and one woman.

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A federal judge will hear arguments Wednesday as plaintiffs seek to block the state from enforcing its same-sex marriage ban while the lawsuit is pending.

After a series of recent court decisions, gay couples have the right to marry in 30 states. But, judges from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this month upheld laws banning gay marriage in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

Plaintiffs in the Mississippi lawsuit are Rebecca “Becky” Bickett and her longtime partner, Andrea Sanders, who were denied a Mississippi marriage license earlier this year; and Jocelyn “Joce” (JOH’-see) Pritchett and Carla Webb, who live in Mississippi and married in Maine in 2013.

The suit says Mississippi prevents same-sex couples from adopting children together or being listed as parents together on a birth certificate; filing joint tax returns; making health care decisions for each other; receiving health and retirement benefits together if at least one partner is a public employee; and being guaranteed to pass property on to a surviving partner when one person in the couple dies.

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