U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves on Nov. 25 overturned Mississippi’s definition of marriage as being only between a man and a woman, but he put his own decision on hold for two weeks to give the state time to appeal his ruling.
On Thursday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Mississippi cannot issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples during the appeals process. But, the New Orleans-based court agreed to a quick process for considering the dispute over Mississippi’s definition of who can marry.
The 5th Circuit also has appeals pending on disputes over gay-marriage bans in Texas and Louisiana, and it assigned the Mississippi appeal to its same panel of judges who will consider cases from the two other states. A federal district judge overturned the Texas ban on gay marriage but put the ruling on hold during the appeals process. A different federal district judge upheld the Louisiana ban on same-sex marriage, and gay and lesbian couples who sued the state appealed that ruling.
Roberta Kaplan, a New York-based attorney, represents two lesbian couples and a gay-rights group, Campaign for Southern Equality, who sued to challenge Mississippi’s legal definition of marriage contained in a 1997 law and 2004 voter-approved constitutional amendment.
Article continues belowIn papers filed Wednesday, Kaplan had asked the 5th Circuit to allow gay couples to marry starting next week. She cited a ruling that came earlier that day from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. That court refused to extend a hold on gay marriages in Florida beyond Jan. 5 while Florida appeals a ruling similar to the one from Reeves in Mississippi.
In a phone interview Thursday, Kaplan said it’s bad news that same-sex couples won’t be allowed to marry during the appeals process.
“The good news is, we will have a ruling pretty promptly, I believe,” Kaplan said.
Earlier this week, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said he voted for Mississippi’s constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and he “absolutely” still supports it.
“This is a constitutional issue with me,” Bryant told reporters Tuesday in Jackson. “You know, the people of the state of Mississippi vote to change a law, and then one federal judge can say, ‘Well, I’m going to overrule that.’ Then what good is the rule of law? What would be next? What if a judge said, ‘We think you ought to legalize marijuana.’ Then does that mean the laws of the state don’t exist anymore?
Article continues below“So, this is a constitutional battle that I think you’re seeing waged all across the United States, is whether or not the people of a particular state, or the lawmakers that represent it, have the right to make certain laws,” Bryant said.
Reeves wrote in his ruling that he considered several questions, including whether gay and lesbian citizens can form long-lasting and committed relationships and can love and care for children.
“Without the right to marry, are gay and lesbian citizens subjected to state-sanctioned prejudice?” Reeves wrote. “Answering ‘Yes’ to each of these questions leads the court to the inescapable conclusion that same-sex couples should be allowed to share in the benefits, and burdens, for better or for worse, of marriage.”
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