The following is a press release from the Campaign for Southern Equality.
HATTIESBURG, Miss. – On August 13th, same-sex couples in eight counties across Mississippi will record their out-of-state marriage licenses at their local Chancery Court offices. Organized by the Campaign for Southern Equality, this statewide day of action for marriage equality will involve local couples recording their licenses in Amite, Desoto, Hancock, Harrison, Hinds, Lafayette, Lamar and Pearl River counties.
Charlene and Dee Smith-Smathers have been together since 1986 and legally wed in Massachusetts in 2013. For them, taking the step to record their marriage license in Mississippi builds on a lifetime of taking public actions in the face of injustice, including their involvement in the women’s movement and the early days of the AIDS crisis.
“We feel it is our duty to contribute however we can,” Charlene said. Dee and Charlene hope that recording their marriage license in Hinds County will bring awareness to the fact that married same-sex couples live in Mississippi, but are not yet treated equally under state law.
Because of financial constraints, the couple did not think they would be able to travel out of state to marry. But then friends and family stepped in. Dee’s nephew gave them his frequent flier miles and a friend in Massachusetts opened up her living room for their legal ceremony. Their marriage is recognized by the federal government, but not yet by Mississippi.
“Couples are recording their marriage licenses to create a public record of their love and commitment. LGBT people in Mississippi and other Southern states simply cannot keep waiting for equality. There is an urgent need for legal protections for families and individuals in Mississippi, and so we are calling for laws to change as quickly as possible to ensure that, no matter what state you live in, you are treated as a full and equal citizen,” says Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Executive Director of the Campaign for Southern Equality.
Over the past two years, the Campaign for Southern Equality has organized for LGBT rights across Mississippi, working with local organizers and grassroots groups to lead WE DO Campaign actions. During this time, 21 same-sex couples have applied for – and been denied – marriage licenses in counties across the state and legally-married same-sex couples have recorded their marriage licenses in both Rankin and Lamar Counties. The Campaign for Southern Equality has also offered an ongoing series of free legal clinics across the state to help LGBT individuals and families understand and protect their rights.
Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down a section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) last year, LGBT individuals still lack basic legal protections in the areas of employment, housing, family rights and marriage in every state across the South. As a result, LGBT individuals and families in Mississippi feel compelled to publicly call for equal rights under both federal and state laws.
According to 2012 Census data 3,488 same-sex households reside in Mississippi and 26 percent of same-sex couples in Mississippi are raising children, the highest percentage of any state in the nation according to the Williams Institute. The lack of legal protections for these families results in harm and suffering for LGBT people across the state.