Analysis: Missouri not likely to follow neighbors in allowing same-sex marriage

Two other states have legalized same-sex marriage within a week.

Less than a week after Missouri's neighbor to the north, Iowa, opened the door to legalized same-sex marriages, Vermont became the fourth state to allow the practice. But it is unlikely the Show-Me State will join in on the changes anytime soon.

Shortly after the Vermont legislature overturned a veto by Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas on a bill that will allow same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses, the Council of the District of Columbia voted unanimously to recognize marriage licenses from other states, which is already done by New York and Rhode Island.

Iowa became the first Midwestern state to allow same sex marriage on April 3 when the state's Supreme Court unanimously agreed to turn over its 1998 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

According to a summary of the court's opinion in the case, the court found the previous law excluded a "historically disfavored" class of people from the "supremely important" institution of marriage, and because this statute inhibits equal protection of the law, it is unconstitutional.

The decision by Iowa's high court comes after Massachusetts, Connecticut and California began to allow the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The California decision was overturned by a ballot initiative approved by the state's voters in the 2008 election that established a constitutional amendment banning the practice.

This was the same route taken by Missouri voters in 2004, and is among 28 other states with similar constitutional language. But unlike the California voter referendum, which passed with 52 percent of the vote and is being appealed, there is little chance that Missouri voters -- who passed the amendment with more than 70 percent of the vote -- will change their minds.

MU political science professor Peverill Squire said Iowa has had a progressive tradition in its politics, but not because of the presence of large urban areas, which usually breed more liberal politicians. Squire said the state has a “strong rural flavor.”

In the state of 2.9 million people, the population of the largest city, Des Moines, counted less than 400,000, and there were only nine cities with populations more than 50,000. Most of the governors of the state have been Republicans, but Democrats now control Iowa’s legislature and governor’s mansion.

And the state has long shown a progressive tradition in its public policy, at least in comparison to other Midwestern states. Iowa’s high court ruled in 1868 that racially segregated public schools were discriminatory -- long before the 1954 federal ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that overturned states’ segregation laws. In addition, the state was the first to allow a woman to practice law, in 1869, and it abolished the death penalty in 1965.

Further illustrating the state’s liberal lean, Iowa voters typically preferred Democratic presidential candidates in national elections throughout the 20th century, including in 2000 and 2008. Iowa did go for George Bush in 2004.

Missouri, on the other hand, has been more socially conservative. The state kept its capital punishment system in frequent use through the 1990s -- as attorney general, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon presided over almost 60 executions -- and also adopted the federal Defense of Marriage Act before it passed a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage.

This year, the Republican-controlled legislature has passed resolutions denouncing past federal legislation that would have expanded abortion rights, and have passed a bill that would make it illegal to coerce a woman to have an abortion.

After the Iowa high court’s announcement, the Missouri Republican Party issued a release that praised Missouri’s same-sex marriage amendment and attacked Democrats who opposed the amendment in 2004.

“Iowa ruling clearly demonstrates that a simple state statute is not enough to protect the institution of marriage,” Missouri Republican Party Executive Director Lloyd Smith said in the release. “Traditional values are under attack from activist judges.”

A.J. Bockelman, executive director of PROMO, which advocates for the rights of LGBTQ people in the state, said any change in Missouri’s law would likely come from the federal level. But he said he remained optimistic.

"Iowa gives me a lot of hope," he said. "It's not just a coastal phenomenon."

Christine Nelson, a program manager for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said despite same-sex marriage being approved in two states in a short amount of time, she does not see it as a growing trend.

Vermont allowed civil unions in the state as early as 2000, and the Iowa ruling came from a 2007 ruling from one of the state’s district courts.

Nelson said there has been an increase in local and state governments allowing domestic partnerships.

On Monday, the Columbia City Council voted unanimously to establish a domestic partnership registry in the city, joining Kansas City, Jackson County and St. Louis as Missouri municipalities that have registries. Nelson said in addition to the seven states that allow domestic partnerships and civil unions -- including the District of Columbia –- 10 states are considering measures that would either expand or create benefits for these partnerships.

“States are looking hard at domestic partnerships and civil unions,” Nelson said.

According to a study conducted between 2004 and 2006 by the Williams Institute, a public policy think tank at the University of California-Los Angeles that advocates for LGBTQ issues, Missouri had a 45 percent increase in the number of same-sex couples in the state since 2000.

The organization has also released studies this year that conclude Vermont and the District of Columbia could raise $300 million to $500 million in revenue over the new few years by allowing same-sex marriage, mostly in tourism dollars from out-of-state couples holding weddings.

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