August 14, 2014 11:18:31 AM
Ravi Perry and Paris Prince went to Oktibbeha County's courthouse Wednesday and filed their marriage license with the government, a mundane task couples complete on a routine basis.
But Wednesday's filing was different. The same-sex couple's Massachusetts marriage license is not legally recognized by state law. Surrounded by television cameras, the couple filed the document with chancery court as a simple statement confirming their love and commitment to each other.
"Our love matters just as much as anybody else's," Perry said. "It's an important small step to remind not only Mississippians, but particularly those who represent us that the Constitution requires any privileges and rights one state gives to its citizens also be given in another state.
"We love living in Mississippi," he added. "We just simply want to take full advantage of what that means."
Chancery court records show the couple's marriage license was filed on record within the county's miscellaneous book Wednesday after a small fee was paid. Chancery Clerk Monica Banks was on hand for the request and her staff facilitated the request, but the action's legal impact is minimal due to state law.
"It's a subtle reminder of our reality," Perry said. "This is important to us."
The filing was part of an effort organized by the group Campaign for Southern Equality. Other filings occurred in other counties Mississippi on Wednesday.
Perry and Prince were married in Worcester, Massuchesetts., on Jan. 15, 2013. Even though they've lived in Oktibbeha County for more than a year, the couple's Massachusetts-approved marital status is not recognized here, and they cannot assume benefits - familial-based health insurance, the ability to adopt children and joint tax filings - that others can.
"We live in a country in which the 14th Amendment and Supremacy Clause clearly state what's supposed to happen with rights given by one state. The problem is we, as a country, have allowed sentiments to replace legal reasoning," Perry said. "Law isn't supposed to work that way; justice is supposed to be blind. There is a whole host of marginalized groups that we, as a country, allow to be discriminated against simply because of sentiments."
Perry and his husband are both tied to Mississippi State University. He is listed as an assistant professor within MSU's political science department, and Prince teaches for the business school.
Perry filed a petition with MSU's Faculty Senate as an attempt to expand joint health insurance offerings for same-sex couples. The couple, Perry said, experienced issues over obtaining the insurance but would purchase a policy Friday as Prince can now obtain it since he is reclassified as a Ph.D. student.
MSU Chief Communications Officer Sid Salter would not comment on specific employees' benefits regardless of sexual orientation.
"The university has a long-standing non-discrimination policy that includes the protected class of sexual orientation, but the university is bound to limit employee benefit policies to those that remain within the dictate of state law," he said.
MSU Faculty Senate President Randolph Follett said it is unknown when the group will take up the matter this year. The petition, he said, was previously sent down for committee review, but many committees need to be reconstituted this academic year because of member transition.
"We left a state where we could have familial-based health insurance, adopt children and file our taxes together. Here, we cannot do any of that," Perry said. "The additional tax filings, the trouble with insurance - these are all things we shouldn't have to do. These issues create challenges for a whole host of public-private employers. If we want to recruit the best and brightest and have them stay, we need to have state policy that encourages people to make Mississippi their home."
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch