Ag Head Unhappy About Same-Sex Reversal, Vows to Pass New Law | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Ag Head Unhappy About Same-Sex Reversal, Vows to Pass New Law

Ceara Sturgis (left) and her partner, Emily Key, hope to have a commitment ceremony at the state-owned Mississippi Museum of Agriculture and Forestry.

Ceara Sturgis (left) and her partner, Emily Key, hope to have a commitment ceremony at the state-owned Mississippi Museum of Agriculture and Forestry. Photo by Courtesy Ceara Sturgis

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This 2009 cover story shows how supportive lesbian teen Ceara Sturgis' family was to her challenge to homophobia at her school.

Cindy Hyde-Smith, commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, says that today's Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum’s capitulation in allowing a commitment ceremony for Ceara Sturgis and her partner, Emily Key, will spur her to change the law. The decision, she said, is not in accordance with her “personal and religious beliefs” about the validity of marriage.

In a statement the Ag Museum released today, Hyde-Smith said a decision from Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood forced the museum to "allow the processing of this permit to move forward. … [T]he legal grounds to deny this request were not found by the attorney general because the ceremony is not, on its face, a violation of state law."

Hyde-Smith stated that if the ceremony goes forward, she will immediately begin working to change state law, to "request clear and straightforward definitions about what activities can take place on the property owned by the State of Mississippi."

After the museum turned down the request by Sturgis and Key to use the museum's Masonic Hall for their commitment ceremony, the couple took their case to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC announced earlier today that the state-owned museum in Jackson has repealed its long-standing anti-gay policy in response to its July 12 letter demanding equal rights for the same sex couple.

Since the SPLC sent the letter to the Ag Museum, the two organizations have been in constant correspondence. “We’re glad that the attorney general’s office and commissioner came to the table in order to avoid litigation,” SPLC attorney Elissa Johnson said via telephone today. “We see this as a victory that Ceara and Emily will be able to hold their ceremony and that there is no longer a ban against same-sex couples holding commitment ceremonies at the Agricultural museum.”

In a July interview, Sturgis told the Jackson Free Press that she was optimistic about the potential outcome of the letter. "We're excited to see what they say," Sturgis said. "Hopefully, they'll say 'yes', which is even more exciting. We want to celebrate our love with our friends and family."

Today, Sturgis' hopes came to fruition.

“It puts a big smile on my face because this is just the beginning,” Sturgis told the Jackson Free Press. “I’m telling you: One day it’s going to be legal for us to get married in Mississippi if we wanted to. It just makes me really excited for the future.”

Despite Hyde-Smith's statement, Sturgis and her attorney remain grateful and optimistic. “I thank (the Ag Museum) for doing what they did,” Sturgis said. “They realized that we should be able to have a commitment ceremony there, and I’m hoping that places that have a gay ban on commitment ceremonies or things like that, that they’ll step into the Ag Museum's shoes and do the same thing.”

Before today, Sturgis' attorney Christine Sun was prepared to take the case to court. She argued that the museum's actions violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.

This victory for Sturgis and the SPLC could make further controversy for the couple unnecessary, a happy thing for Sturgis' mother, Veronica Rodriguez, who told the Jackson Free Press in July that her daughter's demands upon the museum were "a stepping stone to where we don't have to fight anymore."

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves weighed in late this afternoon. “I am disappointed in the decision to allow a permit for same-sex marriage at a taxpayer-subsidized facility to be considered. Attorney General Hood’s legal advice goes against the wishes of an overwhelming majority of Mississippians," Reeves wrote in a statement.

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