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State Officials to Allow Same-Sex Commitment Ceremony at Ag. Museum

By Daniel Cherry | Published 09 Aug 2012 06:54pm | comments
Same-sex couples in Mississippi are claiming victory now that they can now hold commitment ceremonies at the state-owned Agriculture and Forestry Museum. MPB's Daniel Cherry reports how state officials have backed off a policy preventing the ceremonies after being threatened with litigation.
 
Two women will soon receive a permit to hold their commitment ceremony at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson. Twenty-year old Ceara Sturgis and her 19 year-old partner Emily Key, recently received notice, the state won't block their request for a same-sex commitment ceremony. Sturgis says she's happy to have this victory. 
 
"My mom has always told me to stand up for what I believe in, and what I really believe in is fair treatment for everyone. So if this is what it takes, I'm going to do it."
 
Sturgis is no stranger to controversy. She made headlines in 2010 when she wore a tuxedo in her senior portrait and was left out of her school's yearbook. 
 
In July, Sturgis and Key requested a permit to use the Agriculture museum for their ceremony. The Department of Agriculture withheld a permit, and the Southern Poverty Law Center threatened litigation on behalf of the women if the state didn't relent. Elissa Johnson is a staff attorney with the SPLC.
 
"The Agriculture Museum opens its doors and allows others to rent its facilities so it cannot discriminate based upon that it doesn't agree with Ceara's relationship or because it disagrees with her viewpoint."
 
Another same-sex couple had a similar request denied earlier this year when the Department of Agriculture applied a 2009 opinion from Attorney General Hood stating gay marriage is illegal in Mississippi, and civil commitment ceremonies violate the spirit of that law. In a new letter to Mississippi's Agriculture Commissioner, Hood said the ceremonies can't be refused. 
 
In a statement released Thursday evening, Hood wrote, "The federal courts have clearly said that no state can prohibit any individual from using a state-owned facility to express his or her First Amendment rights... Hood goes on to say: We may not like what the federal courts have decided, but it would have been a lost cause to fight the case."
 
He adds, opposing the ceremony in court would have cost the state tens of thousands of dollars.

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