Mississippi mulls marriage amendment

Mississippi gay and lesbian leaders are trying to raise awareness about a bill that would constitutionally ban gay marriages. "We've got the word out through memberships, through our e-lists, our Web sites. This is part of educating the public on the situation," said Jody Renaldo, executive director of Equality Mississippi. "We're trying to educate general Mississippians who really are not aware of gay and lesbian issues."

Republican senator Alan Nunnelee has proposed an amendment to the state constitution that provides that marriage can only involve a man and woman. The bill also provides that a marriage in another state or foreign jurisdiction between two men or two women wouldn't be recognized in Mississippi. Renaldo and Eddie Sandifer, director of the Mississippi Gay and Lesbian Alliance, on Monday said they plan to lobby against Nunnelee's proposal. Renaldo said gay marriage is a hot topic nationally and that some Mississippi residents may have misconceptions about it.

Renaldo said Equality Mississippi will use a grant from the Washington, D.C.-based gay rights group Human Rights Campaign to conduct a scientific poll to gauge public opinion on gay marriage. Sandifer said ministers of various faiths have performed several gay unions in Mississippi over the years but the marriages aren't recognized by the state. In 1997, Mississippi banned same-sex marriages. The constitutional amendment proposed by Nunnelee could protect that law from legal challenges, he maintains.

Renaldo said Nunnelee has proposed similar legislation in the past and it failed. The proposed amendment has been referred to the senate constitutional committee chaired by Sen. Hob Bryan. "As we start watching the process, then we start bringing together more of our options of how to fight this thing," Renaldo said. "We're definitely planning a lobby day at the capitol."

The Tupelo-based American Family Association supports Nunnelee's proposal. Brian Fahling, senior policy analyst for AFA's Center for Law and Policy, said marriage has always been defined as a union between a man and a woman. He said gay marriages are "contrary to nature." Sandifer and Renaldo said gay rights activists are supporting an amendment proposed by Rep. Erik Fleming that would add sexual orientation to the state's hate-crimes law. "He's introduced this bill for many years now, and it's always died in committee," Renaldo said.

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