By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Legal grounds cannot be found to deny same-sex couples from commitment ceremonies at the Mississippi Agriculture & Forestry Museum, the state commissioner said Thursday.
Cindy Hyde-Smith, in office since January, told the Daily Journal that the law does not prevent same-sex couples from using the Jackson facility.
“The application could not be refused,” she said about a same-sex couple’s July request to use the state-owned facility. “Based on my personal and religious beliefs, I strongly object to this, but I have no alternative … but to allow the processing of this permit to move forward.”
Earlier in the day, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Attorney Gen. Jim Hood announced news of the museum’s policy change.
Hood said federal courts “have clearly said” no state can prohibit anyone from using state-owned facilities.
Hyde-Smith, in Lee County for a farm field day, said she sought Hood’s advice about the permit request for the ceremony.
She said Hood’s office could not find any legal grounds to deny the request, especially since a “commitment ceremony” is not being defined as a marriage ceremony.
A few hours after the decision was made public, Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said Democrat Hood’s legal advice “goes against the wishes of an overwhelming majority of Mississippians.”
“I am disappointed in the decision to allow a permit for same-sex marriage at a taxpayer-subsidized facility to be considered,” Reeves said in an email statement.
Hyde-Smith, also a Republican, said she will work with other elected officials and the Legislature for “clear and straightforward definitions” for what activities are permitted on the state-owned property.
The Department of Agriculture and Commerce charges a fee for wedding ceremonies on the Lakeland Avenue park grounds.
It wasn’t immediately known how much a year comes from the rental fees.
Hyde-Smith said she finds the commitment ceremony request “personally troubling,” even though a same-sex ceremony, on its face, is not a violation of state law.