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Governor condemns black wedding ban

Mississippi's governor has described the refusal by a predominantly white church to allow a black couple to get married there as "unfortunate".

Phil Bryant said the state should encourage the union of any couple - as long as they were a man and a woman.

Charles and Te'Andrea Wilson say they were not allowed to marry at First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs, a small town south of Jackson, last month.

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 Mr 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," Mr Bryant said.

Mr 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.

He said the denial of a wedding for a black couple at a traditionally white church had "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," he said of the Wilsons' desire to marry in the church. Look, when people want to get married, we ought to let them get married. 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."

But Mr Bryant said that did not apply to gay couples. "I wouldn't say gay couples, no," he 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% of Mississippi voters approved an amendment banning same-sex marriage. Mr Bryant, who was state auditor at the time, publicly supported the amendment.

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