John Rodricks and Robert Gann woke to a regular Friday.
Next thing, the Kansas City couple was racing to the Jackson County Courthouse. A federal judge had ruled that a Missouri law banning same-sex marriage violated the U.S. Constitution.
Rodricks and Gann worried every second that an appeals court might slam the window. They stood in line. They waited. They got the license. They waited some more. Then when the couple finally got before a judge, one of them couldn’t find his ring.
“Here, use mine,” said retired Associate Circuit Judge Vernon E. Scoville, who officiated at the ceremony.
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A few minutes later, Rodricks, 35, and Gann, 30, became the first same-sex couple to be married in Jackson County.
“And now I pronounce you husband and husband,” Scoville told the two after they exchanged vows in the legislative chamber.
Friday brought major change to this area in one of the more bitterly fought issues in America’s cultural wars. Before the day was over, Scoville would perform 11 more same-sex weddings and said he would be available for more on Monday.
Kansas saw its own share of legal action Friday.
A federal appeals court appeared to clear the way for gay marriages to start in the state next week.
But the state said late in the day that it would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to preserve its ban on gay marriage.
Attorney General Derek Schmidt said he would act before a federal judge’s injunction barring the state from enforcing its ban takes effect at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Schmidt announced his plans after the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver refused to stay the injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree earlier this week. Crabtree delayed his injunction to allow the state to appeal.
Schmidt said he has a duty to exhaust all the state’s options because the state constitution bans gay marriage. Voters approved the constitutional provision in 2005.
He said his request would go to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
The weddings in Jackson County took place after U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith declared unconstitutional Missouri state laws banning same-sex marriage.
Ruling in a suit filed by two couples against the Jackson County recorder of deeds, Smith said that a Missouri law and an amendment to the state’s constitution violate the U.S. Constitution’s due process clause and the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.
“There is no hardship in requiring that public officials adhere to the Constitution, and the public interest is always served when the Constitution is obeyed,” Smith wrote in his 18-page order.
One of the plaintiff couples praised the ruling via written statements distributed by their lawyers.
“Sharing this news will be almost as exciting as when we got engaged,” said Angela Curtis.
Her fiance, Shannon McGinty, said she and Curtis had put off getting married elsewhere, waiting to do it in Missouri.
“It was important to us to wait for full marriage equality where we could celebrate with all of our family and friends in the state where we live,” McGinty said.
The legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, which represented the couples, also praised Smith’s ruling.
“It feels great for Missouri to join the mainstream by allowing loving couples to formalize their commitment with marriage,” said Tony Rothert of the ACLU.
Smith said his order would not take effect until any appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court is concluded.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster immediately announced that such an appeal would be filed.
But Jackson County didn’t wait.
Jackson County officials said the recorder of deeds would begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses at 2 p.m. Friday at both the downtown Kansas City and Independence courthouses.
“Courts are ruling that marriage is a fundamental right of every citizen,” Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders said in a prepared statement. “Sound public policy dictates that right be applied uniformly across the state.”
This week has seen several important rulings on same-sex marriage in the region.
On Tuesday, Crabtree, the federal judge, issued his ruling that Kansas could not enforce its ban on gay marriage.
On Wednesday, the city of St. Louis began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples after a state judge found Missouri’s ban unconstitutional. At that point, Koster appealed the ruling to the Missouri Supreme Court, but did not attempt to stop licenses from being issued.
And earlier this month in Jackson County, Circuit Judge J. Dale Youngs ordered the state to recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in other states.
Smith’s ruling Friday was “incredible” and “historic,” said A. J. Bockelman, executive of Promo, an organization that promotes equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
“Missouri is now a state where all couples have the freedom to marry the person they love right in their home state,” Bockelman said.
The likelihood that the U.S. Supreme Court will deal with the question increased this week, noted Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
On Thursday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that bans of same-sex marriage in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee were constitutional. Previously, the U.S. Supreme Court had declined to hear appeals from three other appeals circuits that had struck down marriage bans.
With one circuit ruling differently from several others, the high court now can step in and settle the constitutional question, Griffin said.
“Now, more than ever before, the Supreme Court of the United States must resolve the issue once and for all,” Griffin said in a written statement.
‘This is history’
After the ceremony Friday for Rodricks and Gann, Scoville looked out to the spectators.
“Now is the time to clap,” he said.
Most of the crowd, however, were members of the news media. So many, in fact, that Rodricks said: “We didn’t need to hire a wedding photographer with all of you here.”
Then the newlyweds got serious.
“It’s an extremely important day, not just for us but other couples,” Gann said.
Rodricks said it was a great day for Missouri.
“One of the worst days for Missouri was when we became one of the first states to use the constitution to discriminate,” Rodricks said. “That’s not what constitutions are for. A sad day, a terrible day. Seeing it overturned is a fantastic day in Missouri.”
Rodricks, who works for a nonprofit, said he and Gann, 30, an employee of an insurance company, have known each other for 14 years and been a couple for seven.
“Almost eight,” Gann said.
“Almost eight,” Rodricks agreed.
The couple then asked Scoville if he would pose for a photograph with them.
“I’d be honored,” Scoville answered.
Scoville, who retired in 2013, said he did not hesitate when asked to perform the ceremony.
“This is history,” he said. “This is something I’ll tell my grandchildren about.”