KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A Kansas City judge is scheduled to hear oral arguments Thursday in a case challenging Missouri’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
The lawsuit in Jackson County Circuit Court, filed by 10 same-sex couples who were legally married elsewhere, mirrors dozens of others across the U.S. that argue state bans on gay marriage violate the due process and equal protection rights of same-sex couples.
The lawsuits 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 a range of tax, health and veterans benefits to legally married gay couples.
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriages. The American Civil Liberties Union says it has marriage cases pending against 13 other states, of which five are before federal appeals courts.
The Jackson County case is one of at least three challenging Missouri’s same-sex marriage ban. The others include a federal challenge in Kansas City and a St. Louis case in which city officials granted marriage licenses to four same-sex couples to trigger a legal test of the ban.
“When you look at what the Supreme Court did in 2013, it clearly stated it’s unconstitutional for the government to single out same-sex families for discriminatory treatment,” said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the Missouri ACLU chapter. “We wanted to bring the fight to Missouri.”
On the eve of oral arguments in the Jackson County case, lead plaintiffs Janice Barrier and Sherie Schild – who were married in Iowa in 2009 and have been a couple for 33 years – said they are optimistic that their longtime battle for equality will pay off.
Barrier was director of the St. Louis office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration but was forced to transfer to an Illinois office after missing too much work after Schild was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996. Schild was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2001 and had to stop working, but she couldn’t get on Barrier’s medical insurance and the couple eventually depleted their life savings.
Barrier was diagnosed with cancer in June 2012 and had to stop working. Now they’re worried that without a change in the state law, one of them could die without their marriage ever being officially acknowledged.
“We’re very, very optimistic, very hopeful,” Barrier said. “This will be a wonderful day in our life, and we will be crying tears of joy.”