ACLU seeks permission to file brief intervenes in Mississippi same-sex divorce case

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JACKSON, Mississippi — The American Civil Liberties Union wants to file a brief in support of a woman who wants the state of Mississippi to recognize her same-sex marriage in order to grant a divorce.

The Mississippi Supreme Court has not ruled on the motion filed Thursday. It's unclear if the court will hear oral arguments or when it might rule.

The ACLU said in a news release it will argue that denying the couple a divorce infringes upon their constitutional right to due process and equal protection.

In 2013, DeSoto County Chancery Judge Mitchell Lundy Jr. ruled that the Mississippi Constitution and statutes prevented him from granting a divorce to Lauren Czekala-Chatham and Dana Ann Melancon.

The women married in San Francisco in 2008 and bought a house in Mississippi before separating in 2010. They could divorce in California, but Czekala-Chatham says she shouldn't be treated differently than straight couples. Melancon objected to the divorce but later agreed to a binding settlement splitting the couple's property even though the divorce was denied.

"The unfair patchwork of state marriage laws presents unique legal challenges across the country as some states recognize marriages from other jurisdictions and some don't," Joshua Block, staff attorney for the ACLU's Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project, said in a news release.

"This case again shows the real and concrete harm caused by treating same-sex couples differently state by state and why we are supporting the right of all Mississippians to make important decisions about their relationships."

The ACLU said in addition to the 19 states that have legalized same-sex marriage, a number with a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage similar to Mississippi's have granted divorces. It said there is pending litigation by ACLU affiliates and other organizations in 34 states.

In September, the state Supreme Court granted Gov. Phil Bryant's request to file a brief in the case. The Republican governor is represented by Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom.

Bryant argues in part that Mississippi's ban should be upheld because states should be allowed to make their own rules.

"Mississippi is free to define and recognize marriage only as the union of a man and a woman," wrote Kellie Fiedorek of the Alliance Defending Freedom. "To declare otherwise would turn state sovereignty on its head."

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