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Judge Mulls Over Decision to Block Mississippi’s Same-sex Marriage Ban

JACKSON, Miss. – The decision of whether or not to overturn Mississippi’s ban on same sex marriage is now left up to federal judge Carlton Reeves after hearing nearly five hours of arguments Wednesday in US District Court in Jackson.

The plaintiff’s in the case include Rebecca Bickett and her partner, Andrea Sanders, who were denied a state marriage license earlier this year and Jocelyn Pritchett and Carla Webb, who live in Mississippi, but were married in Maine in 2013, along with the Campaign for Southern Equality. The plaintiffs were resented by New York attorney Roberta Kaplan who was the lead counsel in United States v. Windsor, the landmark case that struck down sections of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Their lawsuit argues that Mississippi law violates the constitutional rights of same sex couples, denying them rights and benefits that automatically come with marriage.

Attorneys for the state argued that the state should be able to set their own Marriage laws.

During the first part of Wednesday’s hearing, one of the many arguments presented by the state was that traditional marriage laws were in place for responsible procreation. Judge Reeves contended that not all opposite sex couples could procreate, like the elderly, people who are infertile, people in prison, and couples that just choose to not have children. Reeves also said he could not see how a same sex couple would not be able to love and care for a child as any other couple.

Attorneys for the state also suggested that the decision for same sex marriage should be decided by the democratic process, either by the legislature or the public. Reeves then asked if state attorneys thought their suggested “wait and see” course of action should have been applied to civil court cases like Brown v. the Board of Education.

Afterwards the plaintiff’s attorneys argued in favor of same sex marriages, referencing what seemed to be a stack of court cases. Among the cases cited were Loving v. Virginia which invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage, arguing the right to marry should not be denied to a specific group.

Around 12:30pm the judge ordered the court into recess, to resume at 1:45pm.

When court resumed, attorneys for the state changed their tactics. At this point they were asking the judge for stay on his decision, as if they knew the odds were not in their favor. They argued that the state could be faced with irreparable harm under the suspicion that there could be problems with same sex marriage effecting legal policies and the state’s computers concerning things like taxes, health policies, education, and adoptions. They also suggested that the state could run into legal problems if an injunction was placed on Mississippi’s same sex marriage ban and then it were overturned in a higher court. Reeves jokingly argued that the state did not necessarily have to appeal to the Fifth Circuit.

An attorney representing Hinds Count Circuit Clerk Barbara Dunn suggested she and other circuit clerks may be faced with legal ramifications if the state was not granted a stay, suggesting clerks could be put in a position where they would have to either follow state or federal law.

In closing arguments the plaintiff’s attorneys argued that same sex couples not having the right to marry causes irreparable harm since they are denied beneficial rights only guaranteed to a spouse. Same sex couple do not have the assurance that married couples have to protect their families when “bad things happen”, as attorney Kaplan put it, like sudden instances in of death and illness. She said because of this an injunction should be placed on Mississippi’s ban on same sex marriage immediately.

The judge closed Wednesday’s hearing saying he intends to rule as soon as possible.

It is important to note that during the hearing a state attorney said it would be a cold day when Mississippi’s policy on same sex marriage had to be decided in a court room. Judge Reeves replied “It will be even colder tomorrow.”

 

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