A legal challenge to Missouri’s constitutional ban on gay marriage is inevitable. An act of defiance prompted by St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay was carefully calculated to speed things along.
Slay issued marriage licenses to four same-sex couples on Wednesday. A St. Louis municipal judge performed the ceremonies in the mayor’s office.
Besides bringing great happiness to eight Missourians, all of whom have been with their partners for many years, the point was to jump-start a challenge to a 2004 constitutional amendment limiting marriage in Missouri to unions between a man and woman.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, whom Slay had notified of the weddings, on Thursday asked St. Louis courts for an order to prevent further same-sex marriages in violation of state law. Slay said he would issue no more licenses until the question works its way through the courts. Koster predicted that would take 12 to 18 months.
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A U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer granted federal recognition to legally married same-sex couples but left the issue of legality up to states. Since then, more than a dozen federal court decisions have overturned states’ gay marriage prohibitions.
A case in Jackson County Circuit Court seeks state recognition for eight same-sex couples who were married outside of Missouri. That case does not seek a repeal of Missouri’s ban on same-sex marriages, which is Slay’s intent.
Koster said he supports marriage equality, but his duty is to defend the laws of Missouri. Though the politically safe position for an ambitious politician in Missouri, it puts Koster on the wrong side of history. Attorneys general in at least five other states have said they will not defend gay marriage bans.
Ultimately, the constitutionality of the state marriage bans will end up back with the U.S. Supreme Court. That day can’t come soon enough. And if the actions of the mayor of St. Louis and eight newlyweds help it arrive sooner, good for them.