The city of St. Louis on Wednesday began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples after a state judge overturned Missouri’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court but did not try to stop marriage licenses from being issued in the meantime.
How many will be issued across the state is an open question. Other counties were waiting for legal advice or direction from other courts before deciding how to proceed.
No licenses will be issued to gay couples in Jackson County until there’s a decision in a separate Kansas City case, county counselor Stephen Nixon said.
“Jackson County is waiting for the judge’s ruling in this case which will determine the authority of the Recorder of Deeds of Jackson County to issue a marriage license to same sex couples,” Nixon said in a written statement. “We are looking forward to that guidance and will implement the directive of the Court promptly.”
Gloria Boyer, the elected recorder in Platte County, said she was awaiting instructions from the Recorders’ Association of Missouri before proceeding.
“At this point, I won’t issue any licenses until I see notification from our association,” she said.
Association president Jan Jones, the recorder in Johnson County, Mo., said she expects to get direction from the association’s attorney in a few days.
Shortly before 5 p.m., St. Louis had issued marriage licenses to four lesbian couples.
In Kansas, meanwhile, the state Supreme Court indefinitely postponed a hearing on a gay-marriage case after a federal judge’s order Tuesday in a separate lawsuit barred the state from enforcing its ban on same-sex marriage.
The confusion in Missouri over how to proceed arose after St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison ruled that Missouri’s ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional.
The city of St. Louis issued a handful of marriage licenses to same-sex couples in June, setting up a court case over the state’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Assistant Attorney General Jeremiah Morgan argued that 71 percent of Missourians voted for the referendum defining marriage as between a man and a woman, and he said the U.S. Supreme Court has time and again allowed states to define marriage.
St. Louis city counselor Winston Calvert countered that the law treats same-sex couples as “second-class citizens.” He said an increasing number of states allow gay couples to wed, including most of the states surrounding Missouri.
St. Louis officials issued only the four licenses, intentionally allowing the courts to settle the debate.
It was the second defeat for Missouri gay-marriage opponents in recent months. Earlier, in Kansas City, Jackson County Circuit Judge J. Dale Youngs ordered the state to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states. That order allowed married gay couples to be eligible to sign up for a range of tax, health insurance, veterans and other benefits now afforded to opposite-sex married couples.
Koster has said he wouldn’t appeal the Kansas City ruling, stating: “Missouri’s future will be one of inclusion, not exclusion.”
However, late Wednesday, he said he would appeal the St. Louis ruling but not interfere with its implementation.
“The constitutional challenge to Missouri’s historically recognized right to define marriage must be presented to and resolved by the state’s highest court,” Koster said.
But, he added: “Following decisions in Idaho and Alaska, the United States Supreme Court has refused to grant stays on identical facts. We will not seek a stay of this court’s order when the United States Supreme Court has ruled none should be granted.”
A federal court case in Kansas City also challenges Missouri’s gay-marriage ban. The outcome of that case will determine what Jackson County does.
The lawsuits in Missouri mirror dozens of others across the country that argue state bans on gay marriage violate the due process and equal protection rights of same-sex couples.
The suits are based on the same arguments that led the U.S. Supreme Court last year to overturn part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that denied tax, health and veterans benefits to legally married gay couples.
The Kansas Supreme Court’s order Wednesday postponing a hearing on a gay-marriage case came a day before scheduled arguments from attorneys on a petition filed by Attorney General Derek Schmidt.
The court told the parties it wants to hear from them by Nov. 15 on whether it should continue to bar counties from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples and postpone Schmidt’s case until a federal lawsuit is resolved.
In the federal case, U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree in Topeka ruled Tuesday that Kansas could not enforce its gay-marriage ban but stayed his decision to allow the state to appeal. The state did that Wednesday.
The Associated Press and The Star’s Mike Hendricks contributed to this report.