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Missouri ACLU files same-sex marriage recognition lawsuit

The lawsuit was filed on the grounds that Missouri’s ban on recognizing legal same-sex marriages violates the 14th Amendment.

Feb. 12, 2014

Missouri, the first state in the nation to enact a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, will face a lawsuit from eight legally-wed, same-sex couples suing for the recognition of their marriages in the state.

The case was submitted late Tuesday night to the circuit court in Kansas City.

At press conferences held Wednesday in Jefferson City, St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield, the plaintiff couples and the legal team from the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri announced the details of the litigation and discussed their goal of attaining state recognition of same-sex marriages.

“We are confident that when the courts and the citizens of Missouri learn about the state’s refusal to recognize their marriage and how it actively harms them and their families, change will come in the state of Missouri,” ACLU attorney Grant Doty said at the Jefferson City press conference.

All eight of the plaintiff couples have been legally married in other jurisdictions, although those marriages are not honored by Missouri law. The state constitution says “that to be valid and recognized in this state, a marriage shall exist only between a man and a woman.” Chapter 451 of the Missouri Revised Statutes further states that same-sex marriages will not be recognized in Missouri even if they are legally entered in other jurisdictions.

After ruling by a federal judge Wednesday, Kentucky will now recognize same-sex marriages officially entered in other states. That was a decision that struck down Kentucky’s 2004 constitutional amendment similar to Missouri’s law that does not recognize legal same-sex marriages. Thirty-two other states have bans on same-sex marriage, and as of January, there are 17 states in the nation where same-sex marriage is legal.

The case would not legalize same-sex marriage in Missouri if the court sides with the plaintiffs. Rather, it would cause the state to recognize legal same-sex marriages performed outside of Missouri. The legal basis for the lawsuit argues that Missouri’s denial of recognition of same-sex marriages validly entered elsewhere violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.

Recognition of same-sex marriages under the law would afford thousands of Missouri’s same-sex couples the same legal protections and benefits of marriages that are available to heterosexual couples in the state, said A.J. Bockelman, executive director of Missouri LGBTQ equality group PROMO.

“When you think about marriage, you don’t think bankruptcy or nursing homes, but these are just some of the benefits that same-sex couples are currently denied,” Bockelman said. “When the public becomes educated about the benefits of marriage equality, it will bring about change.”

More than 50 percent of the country supports a nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, according to a July 2013 Gallup poll. Similarly, more than 30 percent of Missouri residents polled by Public Policy Polling in 2012 supported marriage for same-sex couples. Missouri’s 2004 constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage was met with about 70 percent support.

Much of this change is due to an expanding diverse public opinion of same-sex marriage across the country, said firefighter Lisa Layton-Brinker, one of the plaintiffs who spoke in Jefferson City with her wife, JoDe Layton-Brinker.

“I’m not sure if it’s just that people are becoming more open minded or exposure to different people,” Lisa Layton-Brinker said. “Every day you hear another state is doing something, and it’s always positive and very exciting to hear.”

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