Gay couple fight for their right to wed

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, July 11, 2013

On Wednesday morning, Kristen Welch, 28, and Jenna Lockwood, 26, applied for a marriage license at the Pearl River County Courthouse. The application for the license was denied because Mississippi State law states “any marriage between persons of the same gender is prohibited and null and void from the beginning.”

The lesbian couple applied for the license as part of the Campaign for Southern Equality’s WE DO project. Couples participating in the WE DO project go to the courthouses in their hometowns and apply for a marriage license in an attempt to call attention to “the harms of current state laws across the South that prohibit marriage between same sex couples,” said Aaron Sarver, communications director for the Campaign for Southern Equality.

The couple filled out all the proper paperwork and paid the $21 application fee, but were denied the marriage license under state law.

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Lockwood thanked Pearl River County Circuit Clerk Vickie Hariel for going through the paperwork even though Hariel denied their license. Hariel told the couple they had the right to apply, but that she must enforce the law.

Before entering the courthouse, the couple knew their application for a marriage license would be denied. Lockwood said the couple applied anyway because they wanted to start a conversation and force government officials to see what they’re doing is discriminatory.

“Everyone out there has an opinion on these issues and everyone out there has the capacity to have a conversation, but most people never get the opportunity. The single best way we can create change  is not to hit our head against a brick wall on the senate floor, which is what we would’ve been doing right now, but to be talking to people we know,” said Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality.

Lockwood and Welch have been together for four years and live together in Picayune. Welch works for a pharmacy and Lockwood works for Best Buy and is in the U.S. Air Force reserve. For Lockwood, her involvement in the military is an important part of the fight for marriage equality.

“They see when I go in there and tell them that’s my occupation, they see I fight for their right to deny me rights. That’s something I feel is always important,” Lockwood said.

Besides the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act a few weeks ago, the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell two years ago was another important moment for the couple.

With Lockwood being in the military, she was finally able to be open about her two-year relationship with Welch. Lockwood says she doesn’t fear getting kicked out of the military anymore because of whom she loves.

Welch said she doesn’t notice how the community views her relationship with Lockwood.

“We’ve both just been out for so long and together for so long at this point that being conscious of the way people perceive us is not on our radar,” Welch said.

Toni Lockwood, Jenna’s mother, expressed how she wished her mother, former state Senator and Representative Margaret “Wootsie” Tate were there to help Jenna in her fight.

This is the second time the couple have applied for a marriage license in Mississippi through the WE DO campaign. In January, they applied in Hattiesburg. The couple became involved in the Asheville, N.C.-based organization after Welch was looking for a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender organization focused on rights in the south.

“I feel there’s a specific and unique need for campaigns that are focused on LGBT rights that are conscious of a Southern uniqueness and consciousness,” Welch said.

Welch and Lockwood both said they have thought about going to another state to be legally married, but decided it wasn’t the right choice for them. Under state law, a legal marriage license for a gay couple from another state would not be recognized by the state of Mississippi.

“For us right now, it’s not a decision we’re interested in because it’s really important to me to get married in my home state. I want to get married here. I don’t feel it’s necessarily fair that I should have to do it somewhere else,” Welch said.

Lockwood drew on the parallels between the civil rights movement and the gay rights movement in her decision to not get married in another state and continue her fight for gay rights in Mississippi.

“For us, its very parallalic to the civil rights moment. It’s not the same because there is no way it can be the same. But in 1962, they asked Medgar Evers why didn’t he just move to another state because he had the means to do so and he said he wanted to stay and make Mississippi the best place to raise a family and that’s the exact same thing we’re trying to do,” Lockwood said.

The Campaign for Southern Equality also has done WE DO actions in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. On Monday afternoon, another couple participated in WE DO and applied for a marriage license in Gulfport. The campaign has planned other WE DO actions in Hattiesburg on July 12, Jackson on July 15, and Tupelo on July 18.

“Whenever we do these actions, I think about kids out there right now in Poplarville or Picayune and other parts of the county that may not be hearing they are equal and that they deserve full rights under the law. At the end of the day, that’s why we do this. So that they know there are adults who have their back and are ready to standup and keep standing up,” Beach-Ferrara said.