Gay Rights Supporters Aim to Build Momentum in Mississippi
JACKSON, Mississippi -- Supporters of gay rights say they hope to use recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings to build momentum for full legal protections for gay and lesbian people everywhere, including in Mississippi.
Speaking at a Friday news conference at the state Capitol, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin says he is confident that full legal equality, including gay marriage, will eventually come to Mississippi. Citing his Arkansas upbringing, he said the South shouldn't be seen as particularly resistant.
"It's precisely because of those values that there's no reason the South shouldn't be a leader in the struggle for equality and dignity for all people," Griffin said. "Full equality will very soon reach every single person in every corner of this vast country. Yes, right here in the state of Mississippi, too."
Speaking at a Friday, July 12, 2013 news conference at the Capitol, in Jackson, Miss., Mississippi Center For Justice Development Director Bonnie Allen, joins other representatives of human relations organizations and legal groups in supporting gay rights and hoping to use recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings to build momentum for full legal protections for gay and lesbian people everywhere. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Mississippi's political establishment and some of its churches have been opposed to allowing gay couples to marry or adopt children. In 2004, 86 percent of Mississippians voted for a state constitutional amendment that prohibited same-sex marriage from being recognized.
A few Mississippi political leaders have changed their mind about the issue. Among the featured guests at a Thursday night reception for Griffin was former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, who in March publicly announced that he was in favor of gay marriage. The Democrat told The Associated Press then that he now regrets signing a state law in 2000 that bans same-sex couples from adopting children. Mississippi enacted a law banning gay marriage in 1997, when Musgrove was lieutenant governor and was presiding over the state Senate.
But current Republican Gov. Phil Bryant hasn't wavered. "Mississippians have already voted to constitutionally define marriage as one man and one woman, and Gov. Bryant supports that decision," spokesman Mick Bullock said Friday.
Griffin agrees that those who want change may have more work to do in Mississippi than elsewhere, but he said it's important for supporters to encourage public debate. Some activists are appearing at courthouses to apply for marriage licenses, knowing they will be rejected. This week, couples have applied in Pearl River, Harrison and Forrest counties, under the auspices of the Campaign for Southern Equality, a separate group from Griffin's.
Some groups, such as the Tupelo-based American Family Association, oppose Griffin's goals. Ed Vitigliano is director of special projects for AFA, a conservative Christian group. He said in a phone interview Friday that he detects little movement in Mississippi on gay rights issues.
"I think Mississippi and much of the South -- and other areas dominated by religious conservatives -- they will certainly be slower to change," Vitigliano said.
He said AFA wants changes on marriage and other laws to be put to the people in Mississippi.
"What we are enthusiastic about is the democratic process," Vitigliano said. "And when gay activist groups want to try to convince the citizens of Mississippi to vote in favor of gay marriage, we want them to have the freedom to do that."
AFA is also likely to oppose some of the Human Rights Campaign's incremental goals, such as a law barring employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.
"We believe that is a law that is intended to cure a problem that does not exist," Vitigliano said.