Lesbian couple demands Mississippi museum allow ceremony

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Ceara Sturgis and partner Emily. - PHOTO: SPLC

A lesbian who sued her school district in 2010 after she was left out of the high school yearbook for wearing a tuxedo is demanding the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum permit a commitment ceremony for her and her partner.

The Southern Poverty Law Center sent a letter to the museum threatening to file suit if the museum doesn’t permit Ceara Sturgis and partner Emily to hold the ceremony there. The deadline for the museum’s response is July 25.

“Our clients simply want to have the opportunity to express their love for one another in front of their family and friends,” said Elissa Johnson, a staff attorney for the SPLC. “It is unfair and illegal for the state to refuse to rent its facilities to couples based solely on their sexual orientation.”

The state-owned museum in Jackson, Miss., refused to permit a similar ceremony for two men earlier this year.

The museum has said it interprets commitment ceremonies to represent a union, and cites a 2009 opinion by Attorney General Jim Hood that said it could decline such ceremonies because same-sex marriage is banned in Mississippi.

The SPLC, in the letter, argues that the museum policy violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution because, under the 14th Amendment, a state may not single out a class of citizens for different treatment, absent a valid state interest. A commitment ceremony or same-sex wedding ceremony does not require that the state recognize or endorse the committed same-sex couple as a married couple.

Sturgis, who lives in Jackson, said, “We love each other and want to spend the rest of our lives together. Like any other couple, we want to be able to share this special day with our family and friends.”

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