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. Courtesy Ceara Sturgis

Ceara's Season: Family Supports Lesbian Teen

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 The SPLC announced earlier today that the state-owned museum in Jackson has repealed its long-standing anti-gay policy in response to its July 12 letter demanding equal rights for the same sex couple.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.


donnaladd 10 years, 4 months ago

Reeves' statement was incorrect, by the way, whether intentional or not. The application wasn't for a "same-sex marriage"--it was for a commitment ceremony. I suspect that was pure politics: He just wanted to get the phrase "same-sex marriage" in the same sentence with "Jim Hood."

This style of politics makes me ill. These are people's lives; they want to celebrate love, and these politicians go around spewing hate and dishonesty.


Eddie_Outlaw 10 years, 4 months ago

So, we pay taxes on these publicly funded state owned properties but we shouldn't be allowed to hold a ceremony that's our only option-aside from costly partnership agreements- at this point?


833maple 10 years, 4 months ago

State property is public property, owned and maintained by the taxpayers of Mississippi. Restricting what can happen on state property will probaby make things worse rather than better.
I am not a proponent of same sex marriage or commitment, but you cannot discriminate against someone because you don't like their choice of partners or how they look or what color their skin is.....


donnaladd 10 years, 4 months ago

See, this is the right attitude. People can have beliefs against certain things without trying to get the government to be your personal morality enforcer. The government does not belong in personal issues that do not affect other people, period. This is what makes us America. Wish people would get a clue about this. The nation was founded, in no small part, in search of religious freedom precisely because so many of our ancestors fled religious persecution -- including Christian. These state public figures can believe what they want personally, but they should be ashamed of taking very un-American stances. Reeves can sit around at Fenian's with his staffers at night, knock back the brewskies and talk about how he doesn't like gay people, or want them married or committed, all he wants but it doesn't mean he has the right to limit their rights. That's Big Brother crap.


RonniMott 10 years, 4 months ago

Reeves statement is just full of hyperbolic nonsense in its two short sentences. First, as Donna pointed out, no one is talking about "marriage," which would provide some actual civil rights (it is, after all, a civil contract if you can see past religious connotations).

Then there's this: "Attorney General Hood’s legal advice goes against the wishes of an overwhelming majority of Mississippians." The implication, of course, is that Hood wrote his decision purposely to spite the wishes of the majority of Mississippians. Following that logic, it is, therefore, Hood's fault that people can have a commitment ceremony at the Ag Museum.

Um, no. Hood's decision was based on law, not popular opinion. That's his job--to uphold the law as it's written. As much as I disagree with Hyde-Smith, as a citizen, she has the right to work for changing the law. What she does not have, and she recognizes this, is the right to follow and enforce her personal beliefs instead of the law.


deguyzinmississippi 10 years, 3 months ago

First off, they make a very attractive couple. This is just a piece of a much larger puzzle state lawmakers are trying to deal with. Personal feelings aside, they have no other option. They shouldn't be in office if they can't keep their personal feelings out of it. They are all of legal backgrounds. They know better. Mississippi is considered one of the poorest states in the country so the taxpayer dollars are mainly being spent PAYING VIOLATIONS resulting of personal and religious feelings violating peoples constitutional rights. www.deguyz.webs.com They don't seem to have a problem coming up with the money so where's the poor part come in? hmmm Guess we'll find out about that at a later date.


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