Just days after Missouri's first openly gay state senator married her partner in Iowa, she found out her marriage could be recognized in the nation's capital.
Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, and her partner Shonda Garrison wed May 1, along with 16 other couples that took a bus trip to Iowa. Missouri's neighbor to the north legalized same-sex marriage April 3 in a state Supreme Court ruling. Justus and Garrison went to high school together but didn't see each other for about 20 years after. They reunited two years ago.
"It was a fantastic experience," Justus said. "One of the best days of my life."
Iowa isn't the only state to legalize same-sex marriage this year. Also in April, Vermont joined both Massachusetts and Connecticut in recognizing same-sex marriage, and Maine Gov. John Baldacci signed legislation into law Wednesday to join them. On Tuesday, the Council of the District of Columbia voted 12-1 to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. According to the council's vote, the act must face a 30-day period of Congressional review because of the District of Columbia Home Rule Act.
Missouri, though, overwhelmingly voted in favor of a gay marriage ban in August 2004, meaning Justus' marriage will not be recognized in the state. But she hasn't let that discourage her.
"Until the hearts and minds are changed, I don't think Missouri is at that point yet to overturn that decision," she said.
The 2004 vote created a constitutional amendment to define marriage in Missouri as being between a man and woman. Missouri Republican Party Executive Director Lloyd Smith said the amendment will keep the Missouri Supreme Court from changing it, like what occurred in Iowa.
"The Iowa Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage shows the importance of Missouri's 2004 constitutional amendment," he said in a prepared statement. "Without a state constitutional amendment, Missouri would be in the same situation that Iowa was: without a constitutional amendment and at the mercy of the courts."
Although Missouri might not legalize same-sex marriage anytime soon, Justus is working to secure other rights in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning community. This session, she is sponsoring multiple pieces of legislation that deal with LGBTQ issues. The first bill aims to add sexual orientation to the state's non-discrimination policy, and the other urges Congress to replace the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in the military with one that doesn't discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
"One thing I'm going to focus on is baby steps," Justus said. "Hopefully over time, the country will start to change when other states see there's not negative fallout with same-sex marriage the way they claim."
Allies in Action President Lance Pierce said the key to making change is by raising awareness. He said Justus does that.
"She's always been a huge leader in the Capitol and working for LGBT rights," Pierce said. "This is one step closer for her to show Missourians we're all just the same."
Pierce also said part of the problem is that many politicians aren't familiar with the LGBTQ community.
"Our community is very invisible unless it's made visible," he said. "A lot of people in office don't have a lot of experience with the LGBT community. There's a lot of education that needs to happen. People who are making decisions aren't really educated on LGBT issues."