The state of Missouri must recognize the marriages of same-sex couples who have wed in states and countries where such marriages are legal, a Jackson County judge ruled Friday.
His ruling was made in a case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri on behalf of 10 Missouri couples who had married elsewhere.
“The undisputed facts before the court show that, to the extent these laws prohibit plaintiffs’ legally contracted marriages from other states from being recognized here, they are wholly irrational, do not rest upon any reasonable basis, and are purely arbitrary,” wrote Judge J. Dale Youngs. “All they do is treat one segment of the population — gay men and lesbians — differently than their same-sex counterparts, for no logical reason.”
In his 20-page order declaring that two state laws and a portion of the Missouri Constitution violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law, Youngs acknowledged that his judgment probably will be appealed to the state supreme court.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, whose office represented the state defendants, had no immediate comment. His spokesman said lawyers were reviewing the judge’s ruling Friday afternoon.
Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the Missouri ACLU, praised the couples who participated in the litigation.
“This is a personal win for our 10 courageous couples who stepped up to represent the (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) community,” Mittman said. “Even better, this is a win for the whole state because a discriminatory law has been struck down.”
A leader of one group advocating for equal treatment also welcomed the ruling.
“This is an incredible day when Missouri joins the ranks of the other states that have advanced cases of marriage equality,” said A.J. Bockelman, executive director of Promo, in a written statement.
In their suit, the couples argued that by not recognizing their marriages, Missouri denied lesbian and gay couples the same civil, adoption, insurance and property rights enjoyed by different sex couples.
Janice Barrier and Sherie Schild, a St. Louis couple who married in Iowa in 2009, know well how different those rights are.
Because they could not marry in the 1990s, Barrier was unable to take extended leave from work to care for her partner when Schild was diagnosed with breast cancer. Later, after doctors diagnosed Schild with thyroid cancer, Barrier could not add her to her medical insurance.
And should either end up in a nursing home now, the couple is concerned that they could not care for each other with the same degree of privacy that a different-sex couple would enjoy.
Barrier and Schild released a statement Friday praising the judge and his decision.
“Our hearts are filled with jubilation,” the statement read.
Missouri Deputy Solicitor General Jeremiah Morgan defended Missouri’s laws on the narrow ground that it has “rational interest in setting forth a standard definition of marriage.”
That definition, Morgan argued, allowed local authorities to issue marriage licenses “consistently, uniformly and predictably” across Missouri’s 114 counties.
Youngs said in his ruling that such local officials, recorders of deed, play no role in determining whether out-of-state marriages should be recognized.
“How does treating same-sex couples, lawfully married in other jurisdictions, differently from their opposite-sex counterparts even have anything to do with ‘local authorities?’” Youngs asked. “No defendant has been able to say.”
During the arguments hearing, an ACLU lawyer noted that some kinds of marriage that are not permitted in Missouri, such as those between first cousins or very young partners, are recognized in the state if they occurred in a state that permitted them.
Youngs disposed of the state’s answer in a footnote.
“Counsel’s response was that, traditionally, those types of marriages … were between men and women,” Youngs wrote. “This may be a true statement, as far as it goes. It is also true, however, that advancing ‘traditional’ views of morality, marriage, intimacy, etc., has been dispensed with as a legitimate reason to validate laws that discriminate.”
Youngs also awarded attorney’s fees to the couples, giving them two weeks to submit pleadings, records and time sheets so he can set the amount.
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