The Mississippi Supreme Court recently granted a same-sex couple’s divorce request, but two of the justices used the case as an opportunity to assert that the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling affirming marriage equality should be rejected by the state.
The case involved a lesbian couple, Lauren Czekala-Chatham and Dana Ann Melancon, who married in San Francisco in 2008. They later bought a house in Mississippi but separated in 2010. Melancon eventually moved to Arkansas, where she now resides.
The two women were initially unable to get a divorce thanks to Mississippi’s 2004 constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The state did not even recognize their union until the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which extended marriage equality nationwide.
In 2013, DeSoto County Chancery Judge Mitchell Lundy Jr. used the state’s ban as grounds for refusing to grant the divorce. Czekala-Chatham then appealed that decision, a move that was opposed by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood. After the Obergefell ruling, however, Hood dropped his opposition.
The Mississippi Supreme Court in November said in a 5-4 decision that “we find no contested issues remain” in the case of Czekala-Chatham v. Melancon and sent it back to a lower court.
Justices Jess Dickinson and Josiah Coleman, however, wrote dissents in which they claimed that the U.S. Supreme Court had gone too far in Obergefell because it does not have the authority to require states to recognize marriage equality.
“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 argued that states should have the right to ignore the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell.
Coleman wrote that any decision by a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court “is not necessarily true and should be subject to questioning.”
He added, “No court should be elevated above the Constitution 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.”
Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Randy Pierce issued a strong rebuke of Dickinson and Coleman’s dissents, alleging that they violated 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, However, if I did, in my opinion, I would be in violation of the oath of office I now hold,” Pierce said in a statement that Justice David Chandler joined.