Ceara Sturgis and her partner, Emily, found the perfect venue for their commitment ceremony: Masonic Hall at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson.
Perfect except for one thing – the couple can’t get married there.
The state-owned museum rents its facilities to heterosexual couples all the time but has a policy barring same-sex weddings and commitment ceremonies, claiming the ceremonies violate state law.
“We love each other and want to spend the rest of our lives together,” Sturgis said. “Like any other couple, we want to be able to share this special day with our family and friends.”
In defense of its policy, the museum cites a 2009 letter from Attorney General Jim Hood that says the museum can limit the use of its facilities to events considered “legal” by state law. Same-sex marriage is not legal in Mississippi.
But the letter from the Southern Poverty Law Center alleges the policy violates the First Amendment and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment for viewpoint discrimination and differential treatment, respectively. The ceremony also wouldn’t require the state to recognize the couple as legally married, the SPLC points out.
“As a mother, I have dreamed of giving my daughter the wedding that she desires, and I want her to be able to get married in her hometown in front of our family and friends,” said Veronica Rodriguez, Sturgis’s mother. “We are not asking Mississippi to recognize Ceara and Emily’s relationship, although it should. We are just asking that they have the opportunity to hold a ceremony in a public place – the same as other couples.”