JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – At least two judges in southern Missouri have opted to not marry any couples, gay or straight, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to legalize marriages between same-sex couples, which overturned the state’s 2004 voter-approved constitutional ban.
Laclede County Associate Circuit judges Larry Winfrey and Steve Jackson issued a joint statement this week on their decision.
“In light of the divisive impact of the recent United States Supreme Court decision on our society relative to the issue of marriage, we elect to not allow the integrity and respect of your local court to be tarnished by being caught up in the dissention created,” the statement read. The judges refused to comment further.
While officials responsible for issuing marriage licenses must grant them to same-sex couples following last month’s Supreme Court decision, Missouri judges have the option to perform weddings, though codes guiding judicial conduct prohibit them from discriminating. That means if judges don’t want to marry same-sex couples, they can’t marry opposite-sex couples, either.
It’s unclear how many other judges have opted to do the same.
Judge Frank Vatterott, who works in a St. Louis County municipal court and chairs the marriage committee of an association of local judges, said he’s heard of “a handful” of judges who plan not to conduct marriages.
At least two states, North Carolina and Utah, have passed laws allowing some court officials to refuse to perform gay marriages on the basis of religious beliefs.
And some clerks are declining to issue same-sex marriage licenses in at least five other states – Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas, according to Mat Staver, chairman and founder of Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christian legal aid group
“We’re getting calls all the time from around the country,” he said. “They’re the first line, if you will, because their jobs are directly targeted right now.”
It’s also unclear if any Missouri recorders of deeds – those who issue marriage licenses in the state – have refused to grant gay marriage licenses, but it appears that most are following a directive from a state association of recorders to promptly implement the Supreme Court decision.