Wed­dings, then a halt in South

Mis­sis­sippi balks at the Supreme Court’s rul­ing in fa­vor of same-sex mar­riage.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Tina Sus­man and Maria L. La Ganga tina.sus­man@latimes.com maria.la­ganga@latimes.com Sus­man re­ported from Tu­pelo and La Ganga from Seat­tle.

TU­PELO, Miss. — Am­ber Hamil­ton and An­nice Smith were the first same­sex cou­ple to wed in Mis­sis­sippi, and nearly the last, at least for a while.

About an hour af­ter the pair filled out the req­ui­site pa­per­work, handed over $21 for a mar­riage li­cense and sealed their nup­tials with a happy kiss Fri­day morn­ing on the steps of the county court­house in Hat­ties­burg, another les­bian cou­ple, Shelly Cran­ford and Shan­non Smith, re­ceived a far dif­fer­ent re­cep­tion.

Their mis­take? Ar­riv­ing just af­ter Mis­sis­sippi’s at­tor­ney gen­eral, Jim Hood, de­clared that the U.S. Supreme Court rul­ing declar­ing same-sex mar­riage a con­sti­tu­tional right would not be ob­served in the Mag­no­lia State.

Not yet, any­way, Hood said, as Mis­sis­sippi, long at the heart of Amer­ica’s most di­vi­sive is­sues, from slav­ery to school in­te­gra­tion, once again dug in its heels against the winds of change.

“This hurts us,” Shan­non Smith said af­ter her gid­di­ness turned to heartache. “We’ve been wait­ing 13 years.”

Mis­sis­sippi’s de­ci­sion on Fri­day, af­ter just three same-sex wed­dings, un­der­scores the tor­tu­ous road to gay mar­riage in Amer­ica, and shows that even a rul­ing by the na­tion’s high­est court can­not force im­me­di­ate change where op­po­si­tion is so deeply en­trenched.

Hood said the Supreme Court’s 5-4 rul­ing would not be ef­fec­tive un­til the U.S. 5th Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals gives gay wed­dings the goa­head. No­body knows when or even if that will hap­pen, leav­ing same-sex cou­ples and court clerks in limbo.

To un­der­stand Mis­sis­sippi’s re­sis­tance to gay mar­riage, it helps to look at its legacy as a deeply re­li­gious and con­ser­va­tive state. This is where three civil rights work­ers were killed by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1960s; where James Mered­ith be­came the first black stu­dent to en­roll in Ole Miss, but only af­ter a vi­o­lent con­fronta­tion; and where the Con­fed­er­ate sym­bol is still part of the of­fi­cial state flag.

It is where 59% of res­i­dents de­scribed them­selves as “very re­li­gious” in a 2014 Gallup Poll, higher than any other state, and where 86% of vot­ers in 2004 ap­proved a ban on same-sex mar­riage.

“It’s tra­di­tion,” said Ed Vitagliano, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the Tu­pelo-based Amer­i­can Fam­ily Assn., which calls it­self a “na­tional Chris­tian or­ga­ni­za­tion that ex­ists to in­form, equip and ac­ti­vate in­di­vid­u­als to strengthen the moral foun­da­tions of Amer­i­can cul­ture.”

“For the most part, it’s called the Bi­ble Belt for a rea­son,” said Vitagliano, who is also pas­tor of Har­vester Church, a small, non­de­nom­i­na­tional church in the Tu­pelo sub­urb of Pon­to­toc. “I’m sure Mis­sis­sippi is no more spir­i­tual than many other states. But they have been used to see­ing the world through the lens of their Chris­tian faith.”

Meeke Ad­di­son, an Amer­i­can Fam­ily Assn. spokes­woman who has a ra­dio show on its net­work, Amer­i­can Fam­ily Ra­dio, said it is not just peo­ple in Mis­sis­sippi who are aghast at the Supreme Court’s rul­ing. Ad­di­son said there is a na­tion­wide trend to­ward por­tray­ing non­tra­di­tional fam­i­lies as the norm and cast­ing aside what she said is the ideal im­age of a mother, fa­ther and chil­dren.

“Peo­ple are very con­fused about the le­git­i­macy of their be­liefs, be­cause they have been so in­un­dated with other im­ages and peo­ple telling them what fam­ily is and telling them what is ac­cept­able,” she said.

“There’s no bib­li­cal de­fense, there’s no bib­li­cal sup­port of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity,” Ad­di­son said.

The high court’s rul­ing will force court clerks and oth­ers who op­pose same­sex mar­riage into un­ten­able sit­u­a­tions if they are faced with hav­ing to is­sue mar­riage li­censes or rec­og­nize the wed­dings in le­gal or other sit­u­a­tions, she said. “Be­cause you want to sub­mit to the law of the land, you also want to sub­mit to the God you serve. And to find your­self in a po­si­tion where now to do one goes against the other is un­for­tu­nate.”

It wasn’t dif­fi­cult to find peo­ple who agreed with Ad­di­son in Tu­pelo, where the air was heavy with lin­ger­ing hu­mid­ity from a morn­ing of rain. From the visi­tors lin­ger­ing on the lush lawn out­side the white wooden house where Elvis was born, to the women in hair sa­lons, the view seemed to be that if gay peo­ple want to be cou­pled, they should not ex­pect the same health, tax and other ben­e­fits that het­ero­sex­ual pairs en­joy.

Those at­ti­tudes hit Shan­non Smith and Shelly Cran­ford hard. In Septem­ber 2011, Cran­ford was run down by a car while walk­ing home in Hat­ties­burg. Her skull was frac­tured in two places and her jaw was bro­ken, along with seven ribs, an arm and a leg. The cou­ple had been mar­ried in 2010, be­fore God, friends and fam­ily, but it was not a le­gal wed­ding un­der Mis­sis­sippi law. So Smith had no say in her part­ner’s med­i­cal care.

“In­stead of her be­ing able to make any de­ci­sions about my health, they called my fa­ther,” Cran­ford said.

One per­son who is con­fi­dent change will come here is Brandi­ilyne Dear, pas­tor at the Joshua Gen­er­a­tion Metropoli­tan Com­mu­nity Church in Hat­ties­burg. She of­fi­ci­ated at the three wed­dings that took place be­fore Hood’s di­rec­tive came down.

Dear de­scribed her state as “not very pro­gres­sive.”

“But times are chang­ing and minds are chang­ing,” Dear said. “We do be­lieve that the ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple here in Mis­sis­sippi stand on the right side of history. There’s been an evo­lu­tion in our state. I be­lieve the open­minded gen­er­a­tion is now the ma­jor­ity.”

Eli Baylis Hat­ties­burg Amer­i­can

AN­NICE SMITH, left, and Am­ber Hamil­ton got mar­ried in Hat­ties­burg on Fri­day, shortly be­fore Mis­sis­sippi’s at­tor­ney gen­eral sus­pended such wed­dings.

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