The Next Obergefell Shoe Falls
November 9, 2015 § 6 Comments
Before the US Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges on the constitutionality of same-sex-marriage bans and recognition of same-sex-marriages contracted in other states, Mississippi had its own same-sex-marriage case, Czekala-Chatham v. State of Mississippi, about which I posted previously. At the trial level, the chancellor had refused to recognize the parties’ marriage in another state, as required by the language of our state Constitution, and the appellant appealed, claiming that the Mississippi provision was contrary to the US Constitution. The State of Mississippi countered, taking the position that the ban was constitutional. As you may recall, the MSSC put that case on hold after the SCOTUS granted cert in Obergefell.
Then Obergefell came down in June, 2015, ruling unconstitutional state bans on issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples and requiring states to recognize the lawful marriages of same-sex couples in other states. Mississippi then confessed the appellant’s position in Czekala-Chatham, and the appellant then moved to dismiss the complaint and render judgment in favor of the appellant. The case has sat on the MSSC docket since then. In the four months since SCOTUS ruled, our court had been silent on its same-gender case.
On November 5, 2015, in Czekala-Chatham v. State of Mississippi, the MSSC did finally rule on the case, but only via an order that says, in essence, that, since the state had agreed that the case should bee reversed and remanded for further proceedings, “We find that no contested issues remain for resolution, and that the [appellant’s] motion should be granted. End of case for now.
The order, signed by Justice Randolph, was joined by Lamar, Chandler, and Pierce. Pierce agreed, with a separate opinion joined by Chandler. Justices Dickinson, King, and Coleman objected to the order.
All writing separate opinions would have preferred to render an opinion in the case to discuss its merits. Justice Coleman offered his objecting opinion as what he would have written to find Mississippi’s laws on the subject unconstitutional.
From the majority’s viewpoint, I suppose, the order narrowly rests on the vehicle that was presented to the court: i.e., the appellant’s motion to dismiss, and the majority did not want to venture out into areas not encompassed in the motion.
To the objectors, however, the court missed an opportunity to settle this area of law in our state so that litigants, lawyers, and judges would have a clear beacon by which to navigate.
All of the ramifications of Obergefell will become clear over time, but it will take more appeals than Czekala-Chatham to get there, it appears.