Federal judge overturns Mississippi same-sex marriage ban, state to appeal

Judge Carlton Reeves
Judge Carlton Reeves
Judge Carlton Reeves

JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday overturned Mississippi’s ban on same-sex marriage, but put his order on hold for two weeks so the state can appeal.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves issued a preliminary injunction late Tuesday.

State attorneys have already said they will ask the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to block Reeves’ order.

Mississippi has a 1997 law that bans same-sex marriage and a 2004 voter-approved constitutional amendment that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.

“The Fourteenth Amendment operates to remove the blinders of inequality from our eyes,” Reeves wrote. “Though we cherish our traditional values, they must give way to constitutional wisdom. Mississippi’s traditional beliefs about gay and lesbian citizens led it to defy that wisdom by taking away fundamental rights owed to every citizen. It is time to restore those rights.

“Today’s decision may cause uneasiness and concern about the change it will bring,” he wrote. “But ‘”(t)hings change, people change, times change, and Mississippi changes, too.’ The man who said these words, Ross R. Barnett, Jr., knew firsthand their truth.”

Barnett Jr. is an attorney and son of segregationist Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett, who was in office from 1960 to 1964.

Two lesbian couples and a gay-rights group, Campaign for Southern Equality, filed a lawsuit Oct. 20 seeking to overturn those. Reeves heard five hours arguments Nov. 13 about whether he should, or should not, issue a preliminary injunction to block the state from enforcing its same-sex marriage ban while the lawsuit is pending.

Rob Hill, Mississippi director of another gay-rights group, Human Rights Campaign, applauded the ruling.

“Judge Reeves’ ruling today affirms what we already know to be true — that all loving, committed Mississippi couples should have the right to marry,” Hill said in a statement Tuesday. “However, there is still much to be done to advance equality here in the Magnolia State. For thousands of LGBT Mississippians, the reality remains that we risk being fired from over jobs, kicked out of our homes or refused service simply because of who we are and who we love — that’s not right.”

Spokesmen for Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood could not immediately be reached. Bryant and Hood filed briefs asking Reeves to uphold Mississippi’s marriage law and amendment.

Gay marriage is now legal in more than half the states. The ruling in Mississippi came hours after another federal judge struck down the same-sex marriage ban in Arkansas.