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Mississippi LGBT rights and marriage equality news

 

Analysis of the Fifth Circuit Hearings

Sunday, January 11th, 2015

Fifth Circuit New OrleansThere are several great summaries out there about what happened yesterday at the Fifth Circuit, which heard marriage equality appeals from Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Among others, I recommend the summaries from Chris Johnson at the Washington Blade and Chris Geidner at Buzzfeed. I would like to go one step deeper. I have listened to the audio from the oral argument (as you can too, here). As with other oral arguments, I find the most insightful indication of how a judge is leaning is not the number of questions asked or to which lawyer he asks more, but the language and tone of those questions. I found that especially true with Judge Higginbotham (pictured, right) on Friday.

When analyzing oral arguments, I always caution that any connection between a judge’s questions and his or her ultimate decision is purely speculative. There are court-watchers who do studies about these things. But my reports on marriage equality hearings at the Fourth, Sixth, Seventh, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits, not to mention at the Supreme Court, suggest that we can draw conclusions. On all the metrics, it looks like marriage equality will win the day at the Fifth Circuit.

First, I will discuss those metrics. Then I will discuss where we go from here.

Questions Asked To Lawyers. This metric is based on the notion that appellate court judges tend to ask more questions to the side of the argument they are inclined to oppose. That makes some sense: you ask questions because you are skeptical. As a related point, the side peppered with more questions presumably has the tougher case to make, which makes it more likely to lose. Sometimes, a judge will lob a helping hand at a beleaguered attorney, but you can bracket those and come up with a simple analysis.

Authored By Ari Ezra Waldman – See the Full Story at Towleroad.com

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Fifth Circuit Marriage Equality Hearing Recap

Saturday, January 10th, 2015

Fifth Circuit New Orleans

The Fifth Circuit took on marriage equality cases from Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi yesterday, and things look promising:

Hearing Times: Louisiana’s case was heard at 9 a.m., followed by Mississippi at 10 a.m. and Texas at 11 a.m full story

Photos from Outside: The Dallas Voice has some photos as people gathered for the trial outside the courthouse. full story

No Protests: Despite predictions, no one should up to protest against marriage equality outside the hearings. full story

Swing Vote Skeptical: From the tone and questions during the Louisiana hearing, it appears that Judge Higginbotham, considered the swing vote, will likely strike down the ban. full story

Second Judge Also Skeptical: Judge James Graves, an Obama appointee, also expressed skepticism about Louisiana’s ban. full story

Third Judge Cites 40 Year Old Case: Judge Smith, during the hearings, tried to justify the bans based on Baker, a Supreme Court decision from 1971 that many legal experts say has become outdated. full story

Marriage Equality “Novel” and “Risky”: Louisiana’s case to uphold its ban came down to calling same sex marriage “novel” and “risky”. full story

Louisiana Oral Arguments: Joe.My.God has the oral arguments from the Louisiana hearing. full story

150 Rally for Marriage Equality: About 150 people braved sub-freezing temperatures in Dallas to demand the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals srike down the bans. full story

Now we wait for the rulings in the three states.

Federal Judge Overturns Mississippi Marriage Equality Ban

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

Mississippi MapJust hours after the Arkansas decision, a federal judge also overturned the marriage equality ban in Mississippi.

The Washington Blade reports:

U.S. District Judge Carlton W. Reeves issued his 72-page ruling less than two weeks after he heard oral arguments in the case the Campaign for Southern Equality last month filed on behalf of two lesbian couples seeking marriage rights in the Magnolia State. “The court concludes that Mississippi’s same-sex marriage ban deprives same-sex couples and their children of equal dignity under the law,” writes Reeves. “Gay and lesbian citizens cannot be subjected to such second-class citizenship.” Reeves, an African American who President Obama appointed to the federal bench in 2010, referenced the civil rights movement throughout his decision.

The judge also noted that discrimination against gays is not over in the state:

Reeves in his decision also noted Mississippi lawmakers earlier this year approved a measure – Senate Bill 2681 – that opponents contend allows business owners to deny services to LGBT people based on their religious beliefs. SB 2681 took effect on July 1. “Discrimination against gay and lesbian Mississippians is not ancient history,” writes Reeves.

The ruling has been stayed for two weeks, pending appeal.

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Mississippi Marriage Equality Hearing Held

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

Mississippi MapA federal judge in Mississippi heard a marriage equality case yesterday.

WAPT reports:

One of the couples involved in the lawsuit, Carla Webb and Joce Pritchett, married in Maine last year and are raising their children in Jackson. They want legal recognition and protection for their family… The lawsuit, which was filed Oct. 20 by Webb and Pritchett; Rebecca Bickett and her longtime partner, Andrea Sanders, who were denied a Mississippi marriage license earlier this year; and a gay-rights group, Campaign for Southern Equality, alleges that Mississippi violates constitutional rights of gays and lesbians and denies same-sex couples the “rights, benefits and duties that automatically come with marriage.” The attorney general and governor said Mississippi’s marriage laws don’t discriminate.

Apparently, the hearing did not go well for the state.

Joe.My.God reports:

Via the Clarion-Ledger: New York-based attorney Roberta Kaplan presented a rapid-fire case for her clients, which include two Mississippi same-sex couples with children: Carla Webb and Joce Pritchett; and Rebecca Bickett and Andrea Sanders. At times excusing herself for speaking too quickly, Kaplan rattled off her reasons why she believes the state’s gay-marriage ban violates the constitution and her clients’ rights and padded her arguments with documented case law. Kaplan’s style was sharply contrasted by that of lead counsel for the state, Justin Matheny, who at times seemed to stumble through his arguments and admitted an unfamiliarity with many of the issues at hand. “When I found out I would be the one to come to court and argue this case, I had to do some research,” Matheny said near the opening of his remarks, eliciting a chuckle or two from the packed courtroom.

Judge: “What is the state’s rational basis that same-sex couples can’t marry and its prohibition of same sex couples from adopting children when all a child wants is to be loved, and they don’t care by whom?” Matheny: “Responsible procreation.” Judge: “You allow people in prison to be married, and there are no more conjugal visits. Old people can marry and they can’t bear children.” Yeah, we’ve got this one.

Although the judge expedited the hearing in the case, he gave no indication how soon he would rule.

The Clarion Ledger reports:

After hearing both sides, Reeves told the court he would take the matter under advisement and rule as soon as possible, but he gave no indication about how soon that would be. If he grants the injunction without a stay, gay marriage in Mississippi immediately would be legal — at least temporarily. If Reeves also issues a stay, it would cancel out the injunction for a period of time to be determined in the court order. Reeves could set a specific time line for the stay, like three days, or could pin its expiration on the outcome of another court decision, like the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling on the pending Texas and Louisiana same-sex marriage ban cases.

So now, once again, we wait.

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USA: HRC Launches Campaign in the Deep South

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

New Human Rights Campaign President Ready to Wade Into More Marriage Equality FightsThe Human Rights Campaign is taking its gay rights and marriage equality fight to the Deep South.

The Advocate reports:

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s most prominent LGBT rights organization, is launching an $8.5 million intiative to enhance its presence in states that offer no protections for its LGBT citizens. Called Project One America, the initiative will establish offices in the Deep South states of Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas (coincidentally or not, HRC president Chad Griffin hails from Arkansas). The impetus is to address the serious inequalities in the South, where there is not only a lack of marriage equality, but also no basic protections in housing and employment for LGBTs.

Seems to me Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas could use a little extra LGBT love… 🙂

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USA, Mississippi: Businesses Post “We Don’t Discriminate” Signs

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

We Don't Discriminate signIn the wake of an anti-gay Right to Discriminate law, some businesses are posting anti discrimination signs.

Towleroad.com reports:

A new campaign launched by a group of entrepreneurs is taking off in Mississippi, the Clarion Ledger reports:

If You’re Buying, We’re Selling started in the commercial district of Jackson’s Fondren neighborhood last week, and has since spread statewide. The campaign is built around opposition to Senate Bill 2681, which proponents claim would only raise the burden government has to meet before denying someone’s right to practice their religious beliefs… Eddie Outlaw, who owns William Wallace Salon and Fondren Barber Shop, was part of the creative team behind If You’re Buying, with Mitchell Moore, who owns Campbell’s Bakery in Fondren.

“A lot of us were trying to counter the negative stuff from outside Mississippi,” Outlaw said, referring to the national coverage 2681 got while it circulated the Capitol. “We wanted to let people know – not just the LGBT community but the progressive community as a whole – that this doesn’t represent everybody here.”

It’s good to see businesses in the state standing up against officially sanctioned discrimination.

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USA, Mississippi: Governor Bryant Signs “Right to Discriminate” Bill Into Law

Friday, April 4th, 2014

Mississippi Governor Phil BryantMississippi has a shiny new “right to discriminate” law that could allow businesses to turn away gay customers, single women, buddhists, pretty much anyone they don’t agree with.

The Advocate reports:

Mississippi Republican governor Phil Bryant today signed a bill into a law that will allow business and individuals to deny service to anyone in the interest of religious liberty, according to ThinkProgress. The legislation, known as Senate Bill 2681, the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, would allow businesses and individuals to deny services to anyone, if serving that person or organization would “substantially burden” the individual’s “religious exercise.” It also adds the words “In God We Trust” to the official state seal. It received overwhelming support in the GOP-controlled legislature.

Some arm-twisting was involved.

Towleroad.com reports:

The bill passed, and should any GOP representatives have been on the fence about the issue, Jimmy Porter, executive director of the lobbying arm of Mississippi’s Southern Baptist convention, the Christian Action Commission, was sure to set them straight, promising a “political calamity” should any of them vote against Jesus.

Said Porter in part, “The fact is that one’s position on this piece of legislation can be made public whether a vote is taken or not. The leadership of the House will take a lot of heat for its failure if that is the case but it will be undeserved. The Christian Action Commission will work diligently to ensure the blame will be laid at the feet of these 20 alleged Republicans [against the bill]. Approximately 60,000 Baptist households will read about it and know the truth. Add to that Pentecostal households, members of the Tea Party, followers of American Family Association, the Liberty Council and the Family Research Council, etc., and you begin to see the widespread interest in this bill.”

Where’s Matt Barber with his “long knives” when you need him?

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USA, Mississippi: Legislature Passes Right to Discriminate Bill

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Mississippi MapShowing their true colors, Mississippi legislators made a last-minute push and passed its own version of a Right to Discriminate” law.

Think Progress reports:

…both the House and Senate have approved a conference report on the bill, advancing it to Gov. Phil Bryant (R) with problematic language. “Religious liberty” bills like the one vetoed in Arizona differ from other states’ “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts” (RFRAs) because they extend religious protections to businesses. Mississippi’s bill has this same problem, because state law already defines a “person” to include “all public and private corporations.” Thus, if Bryant were to sign Mississippi’s bill into law, it would grant all businesses in the state a license to discriminate based on religious grounds. Mississippi does not currently have any state or local nondiscrimination protections for the LGBT community, but a business could use this legislation to justify discrimination against anybody not protected by federal law.

These bills are not dead, folks. The immediate question – will Governor Bryant sign the bill? But longer term, if he does, how long will it take until the religious right takes this victory and runs with it in other states?

Gay Star News says the Governor has already indicated he will sign it.

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USA, Mississippi: “Right to Discriminate” Bill Watered Down Again By House

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Mississippi MapAfter the Senate passed a watered-down Right to Discriminate bill that removed provisions allowing businesses and individuals to discriminate, the House went even further.

The Dallas Voice reports:

The Mississippi House voted 80 to 37 Wednesday evening to approve a dramatically altered “religious freedom” bill that simply calls for a joint House-Senate Judiciary committee to prepare a report “regarding proposed legislation that protects the religious freedoms of the citizens of the State of Mississippi.” The report is due Dec. 31. The amended bill averted a vote on the bill originally sent to the House floor that would have allowed a person to discriminate against others by asserting he or she has a religious motivation for doing so. The Mississippi Senate had already passed a religious bias bill that went even further than the House version. Now, the House and Senate conference committee must reconcile the two very different bills.

So is the bill dead? Watch this space.

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USA, Mississippi: Right to Discriminate Bill Working Its Way Through Legislature

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Mississippi MapOK, folks, we’ve got another one of these anti-gay bills percolating through a state legislature, this one in Mississippi.

Echelon Magazine reports:

SB 2681, which passed the Mississippi Senate in January, would allow businesses to deny services to anyone if they felt doing so was a “burden” on their “exercise of religion.” It is similar in nature to the controversial Arizona bill currently sitting on Governor Jan Brewer’s desk. “This bill has nothing to do with faith and everything to do with codifying shameful discrimination,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “We have seen businesses, people of faith and political leaders from both sides of the aisle speak out against this type of legislation. Passing this bill would not only place Mississippi firmly on the wrong side of history, it would hurt the state’s economy and tarnish its reputation.”

Some politicians claimed not to be aware of the anti-gay aspects of the bill.

LGBTQ Nation reports:

Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, said in brief interview and in a Facebook post on Wednesday that he is asking House members to remove portions of the bill that could lead to discrimination. “I was not aware (nor was any other senator or interest group or citizen that I have talked to aware) of this intention or possible result when we voted on the bill on Jan. 31,” Blount wrote on Facebook post. “I am opposed to discrimination of any kind, including discrimination based on sexual orientation. Obviously, I should have (all of us should have) been aware of this.”

Uh, you think?

Others claim the bill is nothing like the Arizona bill just vetoed yesterday. LGBTQ nation compares the two:

The Mississippi and Arizona bills are not identical but have similar phrases, and critics say those could lead to a person refusing to provide business services for a celebration by a same-sex couple, for example.

The Mississippi bill says: “‘Exercise of religion’ includes, but is not limited to, the ability to act or the refusal to act in a manner that is substantially motivated by one’s sincerely held religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.”

The Arizona bill says: “‘Exercise of religion’ means the practice or observance of religion, including the ability to act or refusal to act in a manner substantially motivated by a religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.”

So a question – do you think these legislators, when they claim the bill is only about protecting religious liberty and has nothing to do with gay rights, really believe that? Or is it all just a cover?

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