Written by Anthony Moujaes
A United Church of Christ minister is back on the campaign trail for marriage equality, working her way through the southern United States in a stand for LGBT rights. The Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, who founded the Campaign for Southern Equality two years ago, has been in Mississippi supporting same-sex couples as they applied for, and were denied, marriage licenses in their hometowns of Gulfport, Hattiesburg, Jackson, Poplarville and Tupelo.
"There is an urgent need for equality in Mississippi. The human consequences of waiting for basic rights and protections — such as the ability to marry the person you love — are just too great. We will keep pushing until all LGBT people are equal under the law,” said Beach-Ferrara. The campaign previously made stops this winter in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia – none of which recognize same-sex marriages.
Thursday morning, two same-sex couples requested marriage licenses in Tupelo, Miss., knowing that they will be denied by the state since it does not permit same-sex unions. The action is part of the WE DO Campaign, which has grown across the state since July 10, aiming its public call towards full LGBT equality in the South.
Since it's launch in October 2011, the WE DO Campaign has held actions in seven states across the South, with more than 80 same-sex couples taking part. A project of the Campaign for Southern Equality, the WE DO Campaign calls for equal rights under federal law for LGBT people by highlighting the harms of current state laws that prohibit marriage between same-sex couples. Another aspect of the WE DO Campaign’s visits is free legal counsel to LGBT individuals or families, such as helping them complete Health Care Power of Attorney forms with the assistance of an attorney for free. This usually costs $300-$500, and helps LGBT couples establish some of the same legal rights as other couples.
About 26 percent of same-sex couples living in Mississippi are raising children, the highest rate among any U.S. state. But the conservative state would likely be the last to adopt marriage equality, according to New York Times FiveThirtyEight blog.
"I'm applying for a marriage license because as an LGBT person from Mississippi I want to stand up and speak out on behalf of other LGBT couples and individuals that can't,” said Matthew Sheffield, who will apply in Tupelo with his partner Thursday. "I want the LGBT kids growing up all across Mississippi to know they are not alone.”
When the couples are denied a marriage license, their application will become a public record in Lee County. The couples will be joined by friends, family and clergy, who will lead a public prayer service before the couples enter the courthouse. Denied applications have been filed in county courthouses in each of the previous Mississippi communities as well, creating the first known public record of LGBT couples attempting to marry in Mississippi.
Polling released last week by the Human Rights Campaign shows that 55 percent of Mississippians oppose marriage equality, which is a 31-percent shift since 2004, when 86 percent of voters approved a constitutional ban against same-sex marriage.
Tupelo is also the headquarters of the American Family Association, a Christian organization behind national efforts to prohibit marriage equality.
In the past four decades, the UCC's General Synod, the main deliberative body of the denomination, has adopted resolutions affirming LGBT persons, calling for an end to discrimination and equal protection under the law, including the freedom to marry. There are 13 states, along with Washington, D.C., that permit, or will soon permit, same-sex marriages: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.