Local officials not yet exposed to same-sex marriage issue

Published 12:13 am Saturday, November 29, 2014

NATCHEZ — While some in the state await to see if a federal judge’s overturning of Mississippi’s same-sex marriage ban will last, officials in Adams County say the issue hasn’t been raised here yet.

Mississippi has a 1997 law that bans same-sex marriage and a 2004 voter-approved constitutional amendment that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Two lesbian couples and a gay-rights group, Campaign for Southern Equality, sued Oct. 20 to overturn the ban.

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On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves threw out the prohibition, but put his order on hold for two weeks so the state could appeal.

Adams County Circuit Clerk Eddie Walker said while the story has been in the news, it has not been discussed in his office, which issues marriage licenses for the county.

“There has been no comments about it one way or the other, good or bad,” Walker said. “No one has approached me about it, and I think if one of my deputies had fielded any question about it, they would have talked to me about it.”

Mississippi’s attorney general has filed a formal notice of appeal of the judge’s ruling that overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The notice was filed late Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Jackson, Mississippi, by Attorney General Jim Hood and Gov. Phil Bryant. The appeal goes to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Walker said if the appeal upholds the current ruling, he will meet with his deputies and discuss what to do when same-sex couples come in.

“They will be welcomed and treated like anybody else,” he said.

“It is pretty much uncharted territory in a legal regard, but if the Supreme Court acts on it and declares (the ban) unconstitutional, we will proceed just like we would with any other marriage licenses we have issued.”

Walker said the issue of same-sex marriage had never crossed his mind when he first ran for the office in 2007.

In Mississippi, in addition to licensed ministers, judges, justices of the peace and members of the board of supervisors can officiate weddings, Walker said.

Adams County Justice Court Justice Charlie Vess said prior to Tuesday’s ruling the matter hadn’t been discussed in-depth among the local judiciary.

“I think we were all pretty much blindsided by it,” he said.

Vess said he didn’t know if judges could opt out of solemnizing a wedding service if they had a moral objection to it.

“As judges we do a valid wedding, and it is a civil union rather than a religious one, and most of the judges I have come in contact with are Christians who go to church where — if you believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible — marriage is only between a man and a woman,” Vess said.

“But we have a lot of same-sex couples who are good citizens, law-abiding, hard-working, tax-paying people, and if this is merely a matter of signing off and saying, ‘Now you are legally married,’ I would have to take a hard look at it before I said ‘No.’”

Vess said at one time it was against the law for couples of different races to marry in Mississippi, but he has officiated several mixed-race marriages in his time as judge.

“When you’re talking about same-sex marriage, when you’re talking about a couple living together in a civil union, I don’t see where that would be that bad a thing,” he said.

“But by law I can’t do it now, and I wouldn’t do it because of that.”


The Associated Press contributed to this report.