JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Many local officials across Missouri were declining to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples Thursday, saying a court ruling invalidating the state’s gay-marriage ban applies only to St. Louis.
Officials in Missouri’s most populous area of St. Louis County joined those in neighboring St. Louis city in granting marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.
But officials throughout much of the rest of the state remained hesitant and, in fact, said they were not legally able to do so.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Chris Koster said Thursday that the St. Louis ruling was binding only on the parties involved in the case. Koster has appealed the ruling to the Missouri Supreme Court, where a decision might apply to the entire state. The high court has not yet scheduled arguments.
The president of the Recorders’ Association of Missouri said the group was advising members that the ruling by St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison applies only to that city.
“So St. Louis city can issue same-sex marriage licenses; the balance of the state has not been affected by that ruling,” said association president and Johnson County Recorder of Deeds Jan Jones.
Officials in Adair, Boone, Buchanan, Cape Girardeau, Clay, Cole, Greene, Johnson, Marion, Miller, Osage, Jasper and St. Charles counties all told The Associated Press that they weren’t issuing the licenses. Officials in Jackson County, the home of Kansas City, also were not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“I don’t know of anybody taking a chance just on a test case,” Cole County Recorder Larry Rademan said.
Burlison ruled Wednesday that Missouri’s constitutional provision limiting marriage to a man and woman violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution. The decision mirrored ones handed down recently in various other states, though a federal appeals court Thursday upheld anti-gay marriage laws in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee, setting up the prospect of Supreme Court review.
A federal court case in Kansas City also challenges Missouri’s gay marriage ban, though no ruling has been made.
St. Louis County revenue department spokeswoman Martina Price said officials there had not seen the memo from the recorders’ association and had issued six marriage licenses to same-sex couples as of Thursday afternoon.
“We believe it’s a county-by-county decision” to issue the licenses, she said.
Missouri’s constitutional amendment barring gay marriage was approved by voters in 2004 with about 70 percent support. Missouri was the first state to adopt a constitutional ban following a decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court permitting gay marriage.
On Thursday, Clay County Recorder of Deeds Jay Lawson cited the overwhelming vote by Missourians a decade ago.
“That’s democracy,” said Lawson, who was not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. “(Now) all of a sudden one judge can become a dictator.”
Gay marriage is legal in 32 states and the District of Columbia.
St. Louis Recorder of Deeds Jennifer Florida said her office issued nearly 30 marriage licenses to same-sex couples Thursday, including to some who weren’t residents of the city.
Among those getting a marriage license were Rusty Conklin, 42, and his partner Kevin Romine, 44. They acted quickly, mindful that the state’s appeal could close the door on the opportunity.
“It’s not just waiting one day, it’s waiting a lifetime,” Conklin said.