PHILADELPHIA, Miss. – Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said Thursday it is "unfortunate" that a predominantly white church in the state wouldn't allow a black couple to get married in its sanctuary.
Bryant said Mississippi should encourage the union of any couple — as long as the couple is made up of a man and a woman.
Charles and Te'Andrea Wilson say they weren't allowed to marry in July at First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs, a small town south of Jackson.
The Rev. Stan Weatherford, pastor of the church, married the Wilsons at a predominantly black church nearby. The wedding was moved after some congregants at First Baptist told Weatherford they opposed allowing black people to marry in the church.
"As hard as we work to try to convince the rest of the world that Mississippi has changed — and, in fact, we have — to see an unfortunate situation like that occur is very disappointing," Bryant said Thursday in response to questions from The Associated Press.
The Republican governor spoke to reporters from the AP and other news organizations after he gave a speech at the Neshoba County Fair, an annual gathering in the red clay hills of east central Mississippi. Except for a break during World War II, a fair has been held south of Philadelphia, Miss., since 1889 and politicians have spoken at it since 1896.
The fair attracts tens of thousands of people, including extended families who live for several days, in the peak of summer heat and humidity, in more than 600 brightly painted, shotgun-style cabins.
Bryant, who is Methodist, has campaigned throughout his career as a conservative who opposes same-sex marriage and abortions. He also has close ties to the Tupelo-based American Family Association, which boycotts corporations it believes are too friendly to gay rights.
Bryant said the denial of a wedding for a black couple at a traditionally white church has "tainted" Mississippi's image nationwide.
"I'm sure there are very good people of Crystal Springs and in that Baptist church that don't feel that way and are supporting that effort," Bryant said of the Wilsons' desire to marry in the church.
"Look, when people want to get married, we ought to let them get married," Bryant said. "We have enough people that won't go and get married. I want to make every opportunity I can for any couple that wants to, to go get married."
Even gay couples?
"I wouldn't say gay couples, no," Bryant said. "I'd say a man and a woman. Let me make sure, let's get that right. When I say couples, I automatically assume it's a man and a woman."
In the November 2004 general election, 86 percent of Mississippi voters approved an amendment banning same-sex marriage. Bryant, who was state auditor at the time, publicly supported the amendment.