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Jackson County Won't Defend Missouri Gay Marriage Ban


Jackson County will not fight a challenge to Missouri’s gay marriage ban because it discriminates against same-sex couples, the county’s top executive said Monday.

Last week the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in Jackson County Circuit Court on behalf of two Kansas City, Mo., couples who were denied marriage licenses.

The county won’t spend any taxpayer money defending that lawsuit, said Mike Sanders, Jackson County Executive. Gay marriage is an important civil liberties issue that needs to be heard in court, he said, and many of the bans have already been found unconstitutional. A Jackson County Circuit Court judge will decide the next step for the case.

“The arc of history is to allow more marriages, not fewer and I think ultimately that’s where we’re going as a nation,” Sanders said. “I think courts may get there, though, before public opinion.”

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Angela Curtis and Shannon McGinty, and Kyle Lawson and Evan Dahlgren, says that marriage has long been recognized as contributing to individual and societal happiness. The couples were denied that benefit when they were turned down for licenses in Jackson County, the suit says, because of Missouri's ban.

“Marriage is marriage,” said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Whether one is married to an opposite-sex or same-sex partner, the desire to form a family, to make a commitment, to take care of each other deserves the highest protections our constitution offers.”

Also last week, four couples were awarded licenses in St. Louis after a federal appeals court in Denver struck down bans similar to Missouri’s as unconstitutional.  But St. Louis officials stopped issuing the licenses after Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster requested a restraining order Thursday to block them.

Koster, a Democrat, said he supports gay marriage but must defend the state’s constitutional ban. Missouri was the first state to ban gay marriage in 2004, an amendment supported by 71 percent of voters.

Support for the ban has softened, although a majority of Missouri voters (52 percent) think gay marriage should remain illegal. Gov. Jay Nixon last year announced that the state would accept joint income tax returns from same-sex couples married in other states, which triggered a lawsuit from a conservative group.

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
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