Shut Out: Mississippi Hate Crime Shows the Mistreatment of Gay Widowers

The aftermath of a racist murder in Mississippi reminds us why it's so important for the government to acknowledge gay relationships.

When a pack of white teenagers beat 48-year-old James Craig Anderson within an inch of his life and then finished the job by running him over with a truck in June, they did so because Anderson was black. What the Jackson, Mississippi auto plant worker's attackers didn't know is that he was also gay, and that when he died that night he left behind a 4-year-old daughter and a partner of nearly 20 years, James Bradfield. Almost three months after losing his partner to a senseless hate crime, Bradfield is now facing yet another tragedy: a criminal justice system that says his and Anderson's relationship doesn't count in the eyes of the law.

With the help of attorney Morris Dees, founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Anderson's family has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the teenagers who brutalized him that night. A glaring omission from the plaintiff list in that case is Bradfield. Despite the fact that Anderson spent more than half his adult life with Bradfield by his side, under Mississippi law, same-sex partners have no claim in civil actions.

When people try to make the case for gay marriage, they often do so by invoking lofty bromides about fairness and justice and decency. All of that's true, and it sounds great while behind a microphone at LGBT rights rallies, but much of it neglects to address the real nuts and bolts of why it's a democratic imperative for government to protect gay relationships. Anderson and Bradfield were in love and had built a very typical and stable nuclear family. Yet because they were gay, their family will suffer more in the wake of violent tragedy than a straight family would.

You don't even have to support gay rights to know that Bradfield deserves to be in on the family's civil suit. You just have to support equal justice for every American citizen.

Anderson's family, for their part, are showing grace in their time of mourning. In a letter to the prosecutor in Anderson's case, they asked for clemency for the defendants. "We [...] oppose the death penalty because it historically has been used in Mississippi and the South primarily against people of color for killing whites," they wrote. "Executing James’ killers will not help to balance the scales. But sparing them may help to spark a dialogue that one day will lead to the elimination of capital punishment."

Photo via James Craig Anderson's family and CNN

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