Arkansas and Mississippi share more than a border and a love for barbecue; today, federal judges in both states began paving the way for marriage equality in the conservative strongholds by striking down voter-approved same-sex marriage bans from 2004.
In Mississippi, where the 2004 referendum was just icing on top of the law that banned marriage equality in 1997, District Judge Carlton Reeves wrote 72 pages of pretty amazing things, including this gem:
“The Fourteenth Amendment operates to remove the blinders of inequality from our eyes. 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. Mississippi continues to change in ways its people could not anticipate even 10 years ago. Allowing same-sex couples to marry, however, presents no harm to anyone.”
And in Arkansas, District Judge Kristine Baker wrote that the same-sex marriage ban violated the Constitutional protections of gay and lesbian citizens by “precluding same-sex couples from exercising their fundamental right to marry in Arkansas, by not recognizing valid same-sex marriages from other states, and by discriminating on the basis of gender.” Her ruling follows the same decision by a state-level court in May.
What’s next? Well, the rulings have been stayed because district attorneys in both states are probably going to appeal them. Mississippi, which resides in the 5th Circuit, might get grouped with Texas and Louisiana; both will present oral arguments about the legality of same-sex marriage bans on January 9th. Arkansas is a little trickier. The Arkansas Supreme Court heard arguments in a similar case last week, and if the court rules in favor of marriage equality, that will be the end of it. If not, the district attorney will likely appeal today’s ruling by Baker.
Alternatively, the United States Supreme Court could choose to hear arguments from cases from four states from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which became the first appeals court to overturn rulings from lower courts that struck down same-sex marriage bans. (Those states are Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Michigan.)
It feels like we’re racing toward the finish line, doesn’t it? Jocelyn Pritchett, one of the plaintiffs in the Mississippi case, told reporters that her wife and children danced around the living room when they heard the decision because “If gay marriage can be legal in Mississippi, the whole country can feel hope.” If SCOTUS makes the move to hear those cases, the ruling should be broad enough (this time) to answer any lingering questions about the constitutionality of marriage equality.
I couldn’t agree more. I lived in Georgia for 34 years and it felt like the rest of the universe would get marriage equality and we’d all be driving flying cars before same-sex marriage became a reality in the South. Things are happening faster then so many of us southerners ever could have imagined.