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Judge: Missouri's Gay Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

Peggy Lowe

A Jackson County judge ruled Friday that the state of Missouri must recognize same-sex marriages made in other states, saying Missouri’s gay marriage ban denies gay couples equal rights.

Missouri’s ban violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause, Circuit Court Judge J. Dale Youngs wrote in a 20-page decision, because the state “recognizes the marriages of similarly-situated opposite sex couples.

The lawsuit was brought by ten gay couples, represented by the ACLU of Missouri.

“We’re ecstatic with the court’s decision,” said Tony Rothert, who argued the case before Youngs on September 25. “We’re happy that Missouri is getting in step with the rest of the country in recognition that there’s no good reason to discriminate against same-sex couples.”

The decision does not allow for gay marriages in Missouri. That issue is part of two lawsuits, one pending in federal court in Kansas City and another in a county court in St. Louis.

The decision means Missouri is among the growing number of states that are chipping away at restrictions on gay marriage bans. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage, and several state cases have been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court has not yet announced if or when it would take up the issue.

Attorney General Chris Koster’s office, who defended the gay marriage ban, said it is reviewing the decision. Rothert said he expected an appeal.

During oral arguments last week, Jeremiah Morgan, Koster’s deputy solicitor general and a member of the Religious Liberty Summit, argued that 71 percent of Missouri voters in 2004 approved a change to the state constitution that says only a man and a woman can marry. "The people are the ultimate source of sovereign power,” Morgan said.

The decision could mean a host of new benefits for employees in Kansas City. Although named as a defendant in the case, the City of Kansas City argued for the plaintiffs, calling on the judge to lift the ban. City spokesman Chris Hernandez said officials can now change policies to make them fair.

“We believe that our employees who are in these marriages are as valuable and should be treated as equally as any other employees," 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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