Mississippi Supreme Court schedules arguments in same-sex divorce case for Jan. 21

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JACKSON, Mississippi — The Mississippi Supreme Court will hear arguments Jan. 21 from a woman who wants the state to recognize her same-sex marriage in order to grant a divorce.

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.

They 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 they shouldn't be treated differently than straight couples.

They have agreed on a division of property.

Czekala-Chatham is pressing ahead with the legal challenge of Mississippi's stance on same-sex marriage, hoping to set a precedent for same-sex couples whose parting might be less amicable.

But the Mississippi attorney general's office argues in briefs that the state's traditional marriage laws defining and recognizing marriage as the union between one man and one woman are not unconstitutional. The attorney general said Mississippi is not required to recognize California same-sex marriage for purposes of granting Czekala-Chatham a divorce.

"All same sex Mississippi couples lack a right to have their marriage recognized by the state regardless of whether newly arrived here, having lived here all their life or anywhere in between," Assistant Attorney General Harold E. Pizzetta III said in briefs.

"Valid federal law grants states the right to choose whether to recognize marriages from other jurisdictions. States are not bound to import other states' laws or policy choices. They are, and forever have been, free to choose their own public policy, as Mississippi rightfully has done here."

Czekala-Chatham's attorney has argued Mississippi's law shouldn't be allowed to infringe on her rights.

"Lauren does not seek to be married — she seeks a divorce. Lauren does not complain of Mississippi's refusal to recognize her marriage to Dana on a going-forward basis. Her complaint is that Mississippi law relegates her to a declaration of voidness, when a party to an opposite-sex marriage in otherwise similar circumstances would be entitled to a divorce," her attorney argued.

In the meantime, a federal judge is expected to rule soon in a lawsuit that seeks to overturn Mississippi's ban on same-sex marriage. The arguments are in a lawsuit filed by two lesbian couples and a gay rights group seeking the right to marry. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves hear arguments in the case earlier this month.

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