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Mississippi Marriage Ban Headed to Appeals Court

Roberta Kaplan: Let Mississippi Same-Sex Couples Wed Next Week

Roberta Kaplan: Let Mississippi Same-Sex Couples Wed Next Week

Marriage equality litigation out of Mississippi will be heard by the same three-judge panel that will consider similar bans in Texas and Louisiana.


A federal appeals court today rejected a request from the attorney representing couples seeking marriage equality in Mississippi to let same-sex couples marry next week, but did schedule oral arguments in the case, to be heard alongside similar cases out of Texas and Louisiana. 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected attorney Roberta Kaplan's request to let her clients, two same-sex couples, marry next week in Mississippi, instead granting the state's request to extend a stay placed on U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves' November 25 decision striking down Mississippi's marriage ban. Reeves intially put his ruling on hold for two weeks, allowing the state time to file an appeal.

"Our clients and other gay couples throughout Mississippi are of course disappointed that the Fifth Circuit extended the stay of Judge Reeves’ ruling," Kaplan said in a statement Thursday through the Campaign for Southern Equality. "However, we are confident that the Fifth Circuit will affirm Judge Reeves' opinion so that marriages can begin in Mississippi as soon as possible."

Court-watchers and those hoping to secure the freedom to marry in Mississippi now have a better idea of just how soon that might be possible, as the Fifth Circuit also released a briefing schedule determining when all parties must submit relevant documents to the court. 

The state's brief, defending the voter-approved ban on marriage equality, is due to the federal appeals court by December 19, while the same-sex couples serving as plaintiffs then have until December 24 to file briefs making the case for equality. The state will then file a response to the plaintiffs' brief, which is due January 2. 

The briefing schedule does not explicitly confirm that the Mississippi case will be heard at the same time as marriage litigation from other states pending in the circuit, though Campaign for Southern Equality reports that the same three-judge panel will hear arguments in all three cases. Additionally, the briefing schedule for the Mississippi case appears to coincide with the already-scheduled oral arguments for marriage equality cases out of Texas and Louisiana, slated to be heard by the Fifth Circuit January 9. 

Meanwhile, Mississippi officials appear firmly resolved to defend the ban. Gov. Phil Bryant this week said defending the law is like defending a ban on recreational marijuana use. “What if a federal judge decided that marijuana ought to be legal?” Bryant told Jackson TV station WAPT. The state would appeal that decision, he said, just as it’s appealing Reeves’s decision.

Attorney General Jim Hood, Mississippi’s lone Democrat in statewide office, has said he personally supports marriage equality but is duty-bound to defend state law. “I don’t force my personal opinions on a matter,” Hood told Mississippi Public Broadcasting in an interview that aired Wednesday. “Especially when other courts of appeal have agreed with the state’s opinion. So we are going to follow it through and do our job and let the courts decide it.” He thinks the Supreme Court will eventually strike down the ban, he added.

Hood has been a marriage equality supporter for some time. “What people do in their private lives is their own business,” he said in a 2013 interview with Governing magazine. But his opinion doesn’t affect his job, he said. “The state constitution defines marriage as between a man and woman,” he told the magazine, “and it’s my job to defend that to the bitter end. I have my personal beliefs and I don’t let them interfere.”

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Trudy Ring