Ceara Sturgis and Emily Key wanted to rent the Masonic Hall at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum to hold a commitment ceremony, but were refused because they are a same-sex couple. Sturgis’ mother, Veronica Rodriguez, lamented that her daughter has been denied use of the “perfect venue”:
RODRIGUEZ: As a mother, I have dreamed of giving my daughter the wedding that she desires, and I want her to be able to get married in her hometown in front of our family and friends. We are not asking Mississippi to recognize Ceara and Emily’s relationship, although it should. We are just asking that they have the opportunity to hold a ceremony in a public place – the same as other couples.
The state-owned museum allows heterosexual couples to use the space for their ceremonies, but its director claims that it has a policy banning same-sex weddings and ceremonies. In 2009, State Attorney General Jim Hood released a letter stating that the museum can limit use of its facilities to events considered “legal” under state law. The Southern Poverty Law Center has come to the couple’s defense, arguing that the policy violates the First Amendment (with viewpoint discrimination) and the Fourteenth Amendment (with differential treatment).
Hood’s argument fails on its face. If it were true, then it would technically be illegal to have any kind of same-sex wedding or commitment ceremony. There is a difference between not recognizing same-sex unions and declaring them to be unlawful. What Hood seems to have suggested is that Sturgis and Key could be arrested simply by declaring their love for each other in front of their family and friends, which would obviously violate their right to free speech and expression. Given the growing number of religious denominations that recognize marriage equality, such a precedent would also be a clear violation of religious freedom.
For the state of Mississippi to declare that a same-sex commitment ceremony is unlawful behavior is an egregious attack on gay community and its personal liberties. It’s nothing more than a pathetic excuse for blatant anti-gay discrimination.