|Ceara Sturgis, (Left) & her partner Emily. |
Photo Courtesy of Ceara Sturgis
By Brody Levesque | JACKSON, MS -- A young lesbian couple in Mississippi's capital city are being refused use of a state-owned museum's facility that is hired out for weddings and other functions. The Masonic Hall at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson was the "perfect venue" according to Veronica Rodriguez, whose daughter Ceara Sturgis and her partner, Emily, wanted to celebrate their commitment ceremony there.
“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.”
The museum's director, Charlie Dixon, indicated that the Masonic Hall facilities are hired out to heterosexual couples routinely but he noted that the museum has a policy barring same-sex weddings and commitment ceremonies. Dixon cited a 2009 letter from State Attorney General Jim Hood that states that the museum can limit the use of its facilities to events considered “legal” by state law, which same-sex marriage banned under state law is not.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, (SPLC) sent a letter to the Dixon and Attorney General Hood last Thursday, demanding that the state end the policy or face a federal lawsuit.
Elissa Johnson, staff attorney for the SPLC wrote that the museum's 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,” Sturgis’s mother told the local media. “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.”
Sturgis and her mother are no strangers to legal controversy over same-sex equality rights. In 2009 Sturgis wanted her senior photograph in a tuxedo used in the 2009-10 yearbook, but the school officials balked. Rodriguez had said at the time; “The tux is who she is. She wears boy’s clothes. She’s athletic. She’s gay. She’s not feminine.”
The ACLU of Mississippi had sent a letter demanding school officials immediately cease violating her constitutional rights writing "that such a requirement for gender-specific clothing is a violation of students' rights to gender equality and self expression." The ACLU-MS reminded district officials that students' right to self expression is protected under the First Amendment of the constitution. "Clothing, such as a tuxedo, worn as a statement of lesbian and gay rights, has been upheld by courts to be symbolic speech that is protected by the First Amendment. Schools have an obligation to protect, not extinguish, such speech."