Mississippi may be one of the least gay-friendly states in the nation, but there are some allies there, including the first mayor in the state to endorse of marriage equality.
David Garcia, mayor of Waveland, on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, announced his support Wednesday via Southerners for the Freedom to Marry, a project of the national group Freedom to Marry. “I understand that the strength and health of our cities are enhanced when all families are protected and supported,” he said in a press release. “We know many people in loving and committed same-sex relationships who are active participants in improving our communities and we’ve seen how important marriage has been for them and their families. Because I believe in fairness for all American families, I support the freedom to marry for same-sex couples willing to take on that commitment.”
Garcia, a Democrat who took office in 2010, has a gay brother, notes the Washington Blade. His support for marriage equality was unsurprising to local LGBT activists. “Honestly, because it’s him, I knew he would,” Waveland resident Jeff White-Perkins, president of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Lesbian and Gay Community Center, told the Blade. White-Perkins and his partner, John Perkins, last year became the first same-sex couple to apply for a marriage license in Mississippi, which they were denied.
Brandiilyne Dear, cofounder of the Dandelion Project, an LGBT support group based in Laurel, Miss., told the Blade that Mayor Garcia is “on the right side of history” and “will inspire others and encourage them to take a stand against hate.”
Mississippi this year became the first state to enact a “license to discriminate” law, allowing businesses to turn away any customer if serving that customer would “substantially burden” the business owner’s “religious exercise” — a law that particularly threatens LGBT people.
But Mississippi does have a substantial LGBT population, including many same-sex couples who are raising children. According to the Williams Institute, a national think tank focusing on LGBT issues, 26 percent of the state’s same-sex couples are bringing up children, the highest percentage of any state in the nation.
“These children need the legal protections and respect for their families that marriage provides just as much as any other kids,” said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, in the press release announcing Garcia’s support. “Waveland Mayor Garcia is standing up for these kids and these families, and for the basic principle that government should not be denying any Mississippians the freedom to marry the person they love. His leadership adds yet another Southern voice to the call for freedom to marry nationwide.”
Garcia is now one of 450 mayors around the nation who have publicly endorsed marriage equality, according to Freedom to Marry.