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There's lots of equality news this week...and it's only Wednesday!

Colleen Condon and her wife Nichols Bleckley pose with their marriage license after Charleston County Probate Judge Irvin Condon began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Wednesday, November 19.  Source: South Carolina Equality

Colleen Condon and her wife Nichols Bleckley pose with their marriage license after Charleston County Probate Judge Irvin Condon began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Wednesday, November 19.
Source: South Carolina Equality

On the heels of a flurry of legal developments Tuesday afternoon, Probate Judge Irvin Condon of Charleston County, South Carolina began issuing marriage licenses this morning! Judge Condon did not wait for the stay deadline of November 20 that had been set in the ruling striking down South Carolina’s ban on marriage equality.

Marriage equality is now the law of the land in South Carolina and LGBT couples will be able to receive marriage licenses across the state Thursday, November 20. (There is a 24-hour waiting period in South Carolina to marry.)

In Mississippi, we’re waiting for a ruling from Judge Carlton W. Reeves in Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant, which will hopefully strike down Mississippi’s marriage ban. We don’t know when Judge Reeves will rule, but to put things in perspective, a ruling in the next week would be considered fast.

As we’re finally breaking through across the South, it’s hard to believe it has been a month since we won marriage equality in North Carolina.

An important article about the role that faith communities have played in this movement for LGBT rights was just published by ThinkProgress. Please take a moment to read it: The Unlikely Story of How Religion Helped Bring Same-Sex Marriage to North Carolina.

And for those in Western North Carolina, we ask that you join CSE, TranZmission and Just Us For All at a Transgender Day of Remembrance event in Asheville on Thursday evening.

To keep up with news, opinions and analysis of LGBT life across the South, subscribe to our weekly email newsletter, “The LGBT South.”

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3 times the South Carolina marriage ruling nailed it

On Wednesday, November 12, U.S. District Judge Richard Mark Gergel ruled that South Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Judge Gergel placed a stay on his decision until November 20, and the South Carolina Attorney General has appealed the ruling to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Hopefully couples will be able to marry beginning on November 20 in South Carolina.

Brianna and Rachel are among the thousands of couples in South Carolina who shouldn't have to wait for marriage equality.

Brianna and Rachel are among the thousands of couples in South Carolina who shouldn’t have to wait for marriage equality.

Here are 3 times Judge Gergel’s ruling ordering same-sex marriage in South Carolina nailed it:

1. When he called out the state’s argument that the 4th Circuit ruling wasn’t binding in this case.

“While this debate over precedent and constitutional principle is interesting, this Court finds most persuasive the clearly stated authority of the Fourth Circuit’s seminal decision in Bostic. It is axiomatic that a decision of a circuit court, not overruled by the United States Supreme Court, is controlling precedent for the district courts within the circuit.”

2. When he established his authority to uphold constitutional rights.

“While a party is certainly free to argue against precedent, even very recent precedent, the Fourth Circuit has exhaustively addressed the issues raised by Defendants and firmly and unambiguously recognized a fundamental right of same sex couples to marry and the power of the federal courts to address and vindicate that right.”

3. When he told the state to appeal the case if they wanted it to be tried all over again.  

“The Court finds that Bostic controls the disposition of the issues before this Court and establishes, without question, the right of Plaintiffs to marry as same sex partners. The arguments of Defendant Wilson simply attempt to relitigate matters already addressed and resolved in Bostic. Any effort by Defendant Wilson or others to overrule Bostic should be addressed to the Fourth Circuit and/or the United States Supreme Court.”

Below is background on why South Carolina courts are required to rule in favor of equality:

On July 28, 2014 in Bostic v. Schafer, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage violated the fundamental rights of LGBT people in that state. When the ruling finally went into effect on October 6, it was understood that the ruling would be “controlling precedent” for other marriage equality cases in the circuit – meaning that the Carolinas as well as West Virginia would have marriage equality soon afterward.

West Virginia began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on October 9, without waiting for a court mandate. North Carolina continued to pursue two of its federal marriage equality lawsuits in court, and eventually got orders in both cases favoring equality. North Carolina marriages officially began on October 10 after U.S. District Judge Max O. Cogburn, Jr. ruled in General Synod of the UCC v. Reisinger. South Carolina, despite having a few marriage equality cases pending, had not resolved the issue until the November 12 ruling–five and a half weeks after Bostic went into effect.

Defendants in the South Carolina cases tried everything they could to delay marriage equality. In Condon v. Wilson–the case that eventually won equality in the state–Attorney General Alan Wilson first tried to get the case tossed out on a technicality, arguing that Governor Nikki Haley should not have been named as a defendant. He also argued that the 4th Circuit precedent was not binding because of a one-sentence 1972 Supreme Court dismissal of a marriage equality case, Baker v. Nelson. Further, he argued that Judge Gergel should take into consideration a recent 6th Circuit decision upheld same-sex marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.

It was clear from the order that Judge Gergel wasn’t buying these arguments, and he shot each one down in his decision.

You can read the full order here.

In Newly-Filed Brief, Attorney Roberta Kaplan Says Arguments to Uphold Mississippi’s Ban on Same-Sex Marriage Have No Legal Merit

Attorneys for both sides in Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant submitted briefs to the court last night in advance of the November 12th hearing in the case, a federal lawsuit challenging Mississippi’s ban on same-sex marriage. In the plaintiffs’ brief, a response to those filed by the defendants, lead counsel Roberta Kaplan stated:

“In seeking to defend the constitutionality of the Mississippi laws that exclude gay couples from civil marriage, Defendants do not offer a single argument that has not already been rejected—repeatedly—by federal courts across the country.”

The full memorandum, filed at 8:37 p.m. on November 10th, can be read at http://bit.ly/1wfj0Yb.

The briefs filed Monday preview the arguments that attorneys will make at the November 12th hearing on the motion for preliminary injunction, as plaintiffs seek to have Mississippi’s ban on same-sex marriage overturned immediately due to the harms faced by same-sex couples each day the law remains in place. The hearing will take place before U.S. District Judge Carlton W. Reeves in federal court in Jackson, Mississippi.

Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant challenges the constitutionality of marriage laws in Mississippi that ban marriage between same-sex couples and deny recognition of same-sex marriages performed out of state. The lawsuit was filed last month on behalf of two same-sex couples – Andrea Sanders and Rebecca Bickett, and Jocelyn Pritchett and Carla Webb – and the Campaign for Southern Equality.

Lead counsel for the plaintiffs is Roberta Kaplan of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.  Plaintiffs are also represented by Robert McDuff of McDuff & Byrd, based in Jackson, Mississippi. Kaplan was lead counsel in United States v. Windsor, the landmark case that struck down sections of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and paved the way to marriage equality from coast to coast.

“The freedom to marry cannot come soon enough for LGBT families across Mississippi, relieving them from the harms and burdens of discrimination,” says Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Executive Director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, a plaintiff in the case. The Campaign for Southern Equality has been advocating for LGBT equality across Mississippi since 2012 and is conducting a public education campaign to accompany the case.

Why we're suing for marriage equality in Mississippi

Joce Pritchett and her wife Carla Webb are plaintiffs in Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant, a federal lawsuit challenging Mississippi’s ban on same-sex marriage. Joce and Carla were married in Maine last year and live in Hinds County, Mississippi with their two children. A hearing on their motion for preliminary injunction will take place in federal court on Wednesday, November 12 before Judge Carlton W. Reeves.

Send Joce and Carla a message of support!

(Joce Pritchett (left) and Carla Webb are suing to have their marriage recognized in their home state of Mississippi.)

By Joce Pritchett

I know that people don’t believe in love at first sight, but the second I walked up to Carla 11 years ago, I felt like I’d known her my whole life. It didn’t take us long to figure out that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.

Like most couples, we’ve experienced ups and downs–we’ve managed businesses together, started a family and grown closer through everything. We’ve been blessed with two beautiful children, which means our days are filled with swim lessons, horseback riding and trips to the children’s museum. They’ve changed our lives in one thousand wonderful ways.

Last year, our little girl, Grace, came home from school and asked why we weren’t married like her friends’ parents. We had to explain to her that there were some bad laws in Mississippi that didn’t allow us to get married here. It was that day that we began planning a trip to Maine to become legally married and then had a big party in Jackson two months later . . . → Read More: Why we’re suing for marriage equality in Mississippi

Meet Andrea & Becky, plaintiffs in the Mississippi marriage equality lawsuit

Andrea and Becky are raising twin boys and are suing for marriage equality in Mississippi.

“Hi, I’m Becky. Would you like some Tylenol?”

Those were the first words that Becky Bickett spoke to Andrea Sanders in 2004. Andrea was suffering from a headache after a long day at work, but still promised she’d meet Becky. They’ve been together ever since.

Ten years later, Becky and Andrea are now raising twin boys, and suing for the right to marry in Mississippi. The couple joins Jocelyn Pritchett and her wife Carla Webb, along with the Campaign for Southern Equality, in a lawsuit challenging Mississippi’s ban on marriage equality.

Read more about Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant, the federal lawsuit challenging Mississippi’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Becky and Andrea have lived together in Pass Christian for the past five years, and they’ve each called Mississippi home for about 15 years.

Andrea spoke with CSE about LGBT life in Mississippi and what marriage equality would mean for her family.

Andrea and Becky are raising twin boys and are suing for marriage equality in Mississippi.

CSE: What makes Mississippi feel like home for you?

Andrea: We have been here for long enough to have gained and lost loved ones in this state. Most of our nieces and nephews were born here, we met each other here, our boys were born here. Becky has lost her grandmother and uncle here, and I lost my father living here. We have history, memories, and ties. We bought our first home in Mississippi, and graduated from Southern Miss.

When we go to the store, even a large one, people know us, they know our kids, they say “Hi,” and we have a . . . → Read More: Meet Andrea & Becky, plaintiffs in the Mississippi marriage equality lawsuit