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Couples Ask KC Judge To Lift Missouri Gay Marriage Ban

Peggy Lowe

Ten Missouri gay couples – all married in states where same-sex marriage is legal – asked a state court Thursday to recognize their marriages despite the state’s ban on their unions.

The couples sat before the bench, politely listening for an hour and a half to oral arguments in a case that mixes their personal lives with voter politics. Some brought their children, some dressed-up with bow ties and hats, and all seemed overwhelmed by the phalanx of TV cameras that waited outside the courtroom.

"The plaintiffs don't need marriage licenses because they are already married," said Tony Rothert, an ACLU attorney.

"Marriage is a fundamental right,” he said, “and it encompasses the right of who your spouse is going to be.”

Rothert asked Jackson County Circuit Court Judge J. Dale Youngs to lift the ban on gay marriage and order the state to recognize the same-sex unions as “nothing special or different, just the same” as heterosexual marriages.

Jeremiah Morgan, an attorney for the state, overlooked the issue of civil rights and said the case was about states’ rights. The U.S. Constitution allows states to define marriage, he said.

Arguing about federalism and what some U.S. Supreme Court judges have written on the subject, Morgan said the state should keep the ban in place until the highest court rules.

That might happen in the coming year, as the U.S. Supreme Court meets privately on Monday to decide whether to hear one or any of the cases in the next few weeks.  If the court takes up the issue, experts say it might hear arguments this winter and rule by spring.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage, and several state cases have been appealed to the Supreme Court.

Depending on what the high court does, Morgan argued that the state has its definition in place. In 2004, 71 percent of Missouri voters approved a change to the state constitution that says only a man and a woman can marry, he said.

"The people - and the state, in this case - are the ultimate source of sovereign power,” Morgan said.

Kansas City, although named as a defendant in the case, argued for the plaintiffs, calling on the judge to lift the ban. That puts the city in an odd legal position, Youngs said, and city officials agreed.

“The city’s making choices to basically work around this,” Youngs said.

Kansas City approved domestic partner benefits in 2004, allowing gay employees to sick and family leave, health and death benefits.

“We have provided all the benefits we can, short of violating state law,” said spokesman Chris Hernandez.   

Trevor Branson, 21, sat two benches back from his two mothers,  JoDe and Lisa Layton-Brinker of Jefferson City, Mo., who were married in Iowa in 2010. Belying his anger on the subject, Branson, wearing a navy-blue suit and red tie, said recognizing his parents’ marriage was simply an issue of fairness.

“If you love someone, you love someone,” Branson said. “That’s not my job to tell you you can’t be married or that you can be married. If you love someone, you love someone. You shouldn’t interrupt that.”

At the end of the hearing, Youngs said he would rule later on the case, although he acknowledged the many ongoing cases in state and federal courts.

“By no means will anything I say be the last word,” he said.

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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