A Jackson County circuit judge said Thursday he would rule “as quickly as possible” on whether Missouri must recognize the out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples.
Judge J. Dale Youngs made the announcement after hearing arguments on the question from lawyers representing 10 Missouri couples who had married in other states or in Canada. He also heard from attorneys representing state and Kansas City officials.
Missouri does not permit gay marriage. State law prohibits officials from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in states and countries where it is permitted.
That prevents legally married couples from enjoying all the property and civil benefits of marriage when they move or return to Missouri, said Anthony E. Rothert, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union.
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“This case is about whether the government can deprive the plaintiffs of the benefits of their existing marriages simply because they were married someplace else,” Rothert said.
Rothert noted that other kinds of marriages not permitted in Missouri, such as those between first cousins or very young partners, are recognized here if they occurred in a state that permitted them.
Missouri Deputy Solicitor General Jeremiah Morgan argued against recognizing the marriages, saying the state has a rational basis for its definition of marriage. Such definitions give local officials in 114 counties the guidance to issue marriage licenses “consistently, uniformly and predictably.”
States traditionally have had the final word on their definitions of marriage, Morgan said.
“This is a matter for the political process, for the state to make its decisions without the intervention of the federal government,” Morgan said.
A lawyer representing Kansas City, also a defendant in the case, flatly encouraged Youngs to order the state to recognize the marriages of out-of-state same-sex couples.
“It is the city’s position that the state laws are unconstitutional,” said Tara Kelly, a city lawyer. “The city would welcome the opportunity to treat same-sex couples the same as different-sex couples.”
ACLU lawyers filed the suit in February, arguing that the state prohibition denies lesbians and gay couples the same civil, adoption, insurance and property rights granted to different-sex couples.
“By refusing to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples from other jurisdictions, Missouri deprives them of numerous legal protections that are available to married, different-sex couples in Missouri by virtue of their marriages,” Rothert wrote in a court motion filed in April.
Morgan responded in August that state law has long recognized marriage as being between a man and a woman. Until the U.S. Supreme Court finds that specifically unconstitutional, Morgan wrote, then the state’s ability to regulate marriage is the final word.
Morgan cited an 1899 court opinion, finding that in Missouri “marriage is a civil contract by one man and one woman competent to contract.”
In 1996, the General Assembly passed a law defining marriage as being “between a man and a woman.”
Eight years later, voters amended the state constitution to read that “to be valid and recognized in this state, a marriage shall exist only between a man and a woman.”
After the hearing, Randy Short and and Eric Goodman-Short, who were married in Iowa in November 2012, said they hoped Youngs would rule in their favor. Both work for the city of Kansas City and said they are grateful the city has been welcoming to gay couples.
Still, Short said that should one of them die, his survivor would not be eligible for death benefits.
“It’s important for us to be recognized in the state of Missouri,” Short said.
Youngs gave no hint on his timeline for releasing his ruling but said he expects it to be appealed.
“My task is to get everyone down the road,” Youngs said. “By no means will anything I say be the final word.”