Last month, the taxpayer-funded Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum denied a request by Ceara Sturgis and Emily Key to rent the museum’s Masonic Hall for their commitment ceremony. Citing legal advice from state Attorney General Jim Hood from 2009, the museum argued that because same-sex marriage isn’t recognized in Mississippi, it could deny the couple use of its facilities since it wouldn’t be “legal.” Now, after intervention from the Southern Poverty Law Center, Hood has dispensed new legal guidance.
Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Cindy Hyde-Smith announced the change, but made it clear she isn’t happy about it:
HYDE-SMITH: In late July, my office received a letter from Attorney General Hood advising that under Mississippi law, the application could not be refused. Based on my personal and religious beliefs, I strongly object to this, but I have no alternative, due to this advice, but to allow the processing of this permit to move forward. This process contains multiple steps and is currently not finalized.[...]
While this same-sex couple’s request for a permit to utilize one of our state’s facilities for a “commitment ceremony” is not being defined as a marriage ceremony, it is personally troubling for me. Furthermore, based on the legal advice from the Attorney General and the lack of clarity of state law regarding usage of state facilities for these kinds of activities, the legal grounds to deny this request were not found by the Attorney General because the ceremony is, not on its face a violate of state law.
Hyde-Smith called on the legislature to remedy the perceived lack of clarity, essentially requesting that the state enshrine public accommodations discrimination against same-sex couples into law. Lt. Gov Tate Reeves (R) also released a statement objecting to the change:
REEVES: I am disappointed in the decision to allow a permit for same-sex marriage at a taxpayer-subsidized facility to be considered. Attorney General Hood’s legal advice goes against the wishes of an overwhelming majority of Mississippians.
Just last week, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) says he doesn’t even believe same-sex couples are “couples.” Regardless of what Bryant, Reeves, Hyde-Smith or many Mississippians believe, at least two Mississippians will be able to celebrate a special day in a special way and it won’t affect anybody else’s lives whatsoever.