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Mississippi high court grants same-sex divorce; 2 justices question US Supreme Court ruling


JACKSON, Mississippi — The Mississippi Supreme Court voted to allow a lesbian couple to seek a divorce, even as two justices questioned the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage and suggested that landmark ruling has no constitutional basis.

The decision Thursday came after DeSoto County Chancery Judge Mitchell Lundy Jr. ruled in 2013 that the Mississippi Constitution and state law prevented him from granting a divorce to Lauren Czekala-Chatham and Dana Ann Melancon because the state didn't recognize same-sex marriage.

Czekala-Chatham appealed, and it was initially opposed by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat. However, Hood asked the court to allow the divorce after the June 26 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Friday, same-sex couples will be in federal court seeking to overturn Mississippi's last-in-the-nation ban on adoption by gay couples.

In the Mississippi court's divorce ruling, five of nine justices said in a two-page order that because Hood had reversed his position, "we find no contested issues remain" and sent the case back to DeSoto County for further action.

Justices Leslie King and James Kitchens agreed with the outcome, but dissented, calling for the court to issue a full opinion. King and Kitchens called for Mississippi to overturn its ban on same-sex marriage and grant the divorce in February.

Czekala-Chatham and Melancon were married in San Francisco in 2008 and bought a house in Mississippi before separating in 2010. Czekala-Chatham said she hopes to soon be divorced from her wife, who now lives in Arkansas.

"I'm happy this battle has been won. But the war on discrimination is still ongoing," the 53-year-old Hernando resident told The Associated Press on Thursday.

She said searching for a job as a credit analyst has been difficult because potential employers see her involvement in the case.

"This fight has damaged my life in ways I can't recover from," she said.

Justices Jess Dickinson and Josiah Coleman each wrote dissents calling for the state court to consider the issue on its own, noting that Mississippi residents voting in a 2004 election had put the same-sex marriage ban into the state constitution. Each cited arguments that the U.S. Supreme Court had overreached its authority in the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

"When five members of the court hand down an order that four other members believe has 'no basis in the Constitution,' a substantial question is presented as to whether I have a duty to follow it," Dickinson wrote. "And I believe we have a duty to address that question."

Dickinson cited 31 conservative law professors who have said states should refuse to accept the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Coleman wrote that the idea that the U.S. Constitution means what a majority of the Supreme Court says it means "is not necessarily true and should be subject to questioning."

"No court should be elevated above the Constutition itself, and if the Supreme Court of the United States has done something it has no constitutional basis for doing — as forcefully argued by the Obergefell dissenters, then those of us who sit below it must ask ourselves what, if anything, it means."

Justice Randy Pierce wrote that he thought Coleman and Dickinson were violating their oath of office.

"As an elected member of this court, the politically expedient (and politically popular) thing for me to do is to join my colleagues' separate statements and quote the dissenters in the Obergefell case," Pierce wrote in a statement joined by Justice David Chandler.

Both Coleman and Dickinson said they had not violated their oath.

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