A recent national survey found that more than half of LGBT Mississippians are in a long-term relationship, but for LGBT couples in Mississippi, marriage is only available across state lines. In 2004, same-sex marriage was banned by Mississippi voters. LGBT couples who travel out of state to wed are viewed as legal stingers in the eyes of the state, though the federal government does recognize these marriages.
On Wednesday, August 13, couples in eight Mississippi counties will record their out-of-state marriage licenses with their local chancery clerks, creating a public record of married LGBT couples in their hometowns. The couples are part of the WE DO Campaign, which calls for Southern states to give legal recognition to LGBT families.
Charlene and Dee Smith-Smathers have been together since 1986. Dee introduced Charlene to political activism, and the couple participated in the women’s movement and the early days of the AIDS crisis. For them, recording their marriage in Mississippi builds on their lifetime of taking public actions in the face of injustice.
“We feel it is our duty to contribute however we can,” Charlene says. Dee and Charlene hope that recording their marriage license in Hinds County will bring awareness to the fact that married same-sex couples live in Mississippi, but aren’t treated equally under state law.
The couple didn’t plan on being married outside of Mississippi, but they had the opportunity to have a wedding thanks to the efforts of their family and friends. Dee’s nephew turned over his frequent flier miles to the couple, and they had their wedding in a friend’s living room in Massachusetts in 2013.
“We couldn’t have financially managed the trip without help,” Charlene says.
In Mississippi, which leads the nation in poverty, many same-sex couples don’t have the means to take a destination wedding to another state. Research has shown that LGBT people, especially lesbians, are more likely to live in poverty than their heterosexual counterparts, and a wage gap exists between gay and straight people in the same occupations. LGBT people raising children are even more likely to live in poverty, and Mississippi has the highest rate of LGBT parents.
This coordinated action on August 13 will highlight the injustice of same-sex marriage bans in the South.