Same-sex marriage supporters in the South remain optimistic


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Plaintiffs in a suit against Louisiana's sex marriage ban leaving the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. - ALEX WOODWARD
  • Plaintiffs in a suit against Louisiana's sex marriage ban leaving the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Standing outside the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, Helen Barnes posed for photographs with a T-shirt reading "Str8 Mom for Marriage Equality." Barnes, who lives in Mississippi, held a sign that she also brought to same-sex marriage rallies in Washington D.C. in 2009 and 2013. Her son made the sign when he was 14 years old. He is now 20.

Barnes was among dozens of supporters filling courtrooms and huddling outside in 40 degree weather as the federal appeals court heard oral arguments from same-sex couples from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas against those states' laws banning gay marriage. In 2004, Louisiana voters approved a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages. In September 2014, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman upheld that ban in the case of Robicheaux v. Caldwell, in which six Louisiana couples along with Forum For Equality challenged that ban. (Oral arguments in that case were heard in June 2014.) The plaintiffs appealed to the 5th District and to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could bypass the appellate court.

Crowds lined up for a space inside the court before 7 a.m. to hear the arguments in front of a three-judge panel — made up Ronald Reagan appointees Jerry E. Smith and Patrick Higginbotham and Barack Obama appointee James Graves. Hearings ended around 1 p.m. 

"We asked the 5th Circuit in the state of Louisiana to recognize the dignity and respect and equality of our marriage, and the marriage of all same-sex couples in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi," said Louisiana's L. Havard Scott III, who has been with his partner Sergio March Prieto for 18 years. "If we don’t get what we’re seeking here, we’ll get it from the U.S. Supreme Court. ... We simply love our partners, and we want our love to be respected to the same extent other peoples’ marriages are respected, and we see no reason why the state of Louisiana can’t respect our marriage like it does the marriages of other people."

Mississippi marriage equality supporter Helen Barnes. - ALEX WOODWARD
  • Mississippi marriage equality supporter Helen Barnes.

Mississippi couple Andrea and Rebecca Sanders, who are plaintiffs in the Mississippi case, have been together 10 years and are parents to twin sons.

"In the beginning of our relationship, we had great dreams of getting married and starting a family. These dreams were quickly overwhelmed by the reality of Mississippi’s current law," Andrea said. "We held onto that ember of hope that we would someday see a change in a positive way in Mississippi. ... Today we stand together with many others across Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi with the country watching our small flames grow. We all started with the same hopes and dreams. We’re not taking part in a social experiment. We are and deserve to be equal citizens and we look forward to equal rights. Hopefully our dreams will soon be realized and we can finally marry in our home state."

Mark Phariss and his partner Vic Holmes, a U.S. Air Force veteran, are plaintiffs in the Texas case. They have been together 17 years.

"Vic and I knew when we came here today that we were on the right side of history and we were on the right side of love and compassion," Phariss said, adding that after hearing today's arguments, "We knew we were on the right side of the law. ... The cases presented today were really about two issues at the core: No. 1 was love, and No. 2 was freedom. With respect to love, I have to respectfully disagree with Texas; marriage is all about love."

In a statement following the hearings, Evan Wolfson — president of Freedom To Marry, a national campaign for marriage equality — wrote that the states in today's hearings had "no evidence and no significant legal justification to outweigh the powerful arguments for ending the exclusion of gay couples from marriage."

"Couples in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi have the same aspirations for love and commitment, the same needs for the legal protections and responsibilities marriage brings, and the same rights under the Constitution as couples in the vast majority of the country where marriage discrimination has been discarded," he said. "Freedom to Marry joins these couples and their advocates in calling on the 5th Circuit to do what nearly 60 state and federal courts, including four federal circuit courts, have now done: affirm the freedom to marry and end the discrimination that harms families and helps no one.”

Jennifer Pierce proposes to her partner Jena outside the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. - ALEX WOODWARD
  • Jennifer Pierce proposes to her partner Jena outside the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Jennifer Pierce married her spouse Jena in Connecticut in 2013 — but the Biloxi, Mississippi residents' marriage isn't recognized in their home state. Following a press conference after the court hearings, Pierce proposed (for a third time). "Third time's a charm," she said.


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