Mississippi appeal of gay marriage ruling leaves same-sex couples in limbo

Rebecca Bickett and Andrea Sanders

Plaintiffs Rebecca Bickett, right, and her partner, Andrea Sanders, arrive at the federal courthouse on Nov. 12, 2014, to challenge the state's out right ban on gay marriage, in Jackson, Miss. Greg Jenson, AP

Rebecca Bickett and Andrea SandersGreg Jenson, AP

Plaintiffs Rebecca Bickett, right, and her partner, Andrea Sanders, arrive at the federal courthouse on Nov. 12, 2014, to challenge the state’s out right ban on gay marriage, in Jackson, Miss.

JACKSON, Miss. — For weeks, Rebecca “Becky” Bickett and her longtime partner Andrea Sanders kept a bag packed with wedding clothes. It stayed in their minivan, Bickett said, so they could get ready on short notice in case a judicial ruling suddenly allowed same-sex couples, like themselves, to marry in Mississippi.

The clothes were nothing fancy, Bickett said. Just the shirts they each wanted to wear, plus a couple of outfits for their toddler twins.

“We had clothes for the kids so they’d look all snazzy,” Bickett said in a phone interview from the home that she, Sanders and their 16-month-old sons share in coastal Harrison County.

One day this past week, Bickett took the bag out of the van and brought the clothes into the house to wash, acknowledging it could be a while before she and Sanders can say their vows and pose for their wedding pictures.

Bickett, 34, and Sanders, 32, have been together for a decade and lost a home to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. They are one of two lesbian couples who, along with the gay-rights group Campaign for Southern Equality, sued the state of Mississippi in October to challenge its ban on same-sex marriage. The state has a 1997 law and a 2004 voter-approved constitutional amendment that define marriage as being only between a man and a woman.

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U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves on Nov. 25 overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, but put his ruling temporarily on hold to let the state appeal. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals extended that hold Thursday, saying same-sex couples won’t be allowed to marry in Mississippi while the state continues defending its laws.

On Friday, the 5th Circuit set oral arguments in the Mississippi case for Jan. 9 – the same day that the same three-judge panel in New Orleans will hear arguments over same-sex marriage bans from the other two states in its circuit, Louisiana and Texas.

Reeves agreed with plaintiffs’ arguments that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees equal protection under the law, applies to same-sex couples as well as couples of the opposite sex.

“The Fourteenth Amendment ensures that citizens’ rights to liberty and equality are the same whether you live in the Rocky Mountains or the Mississippi Delta,” Reeves wrote.

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