Missouri’s same-sex marriage ban declared unconstitutional

This is the third decision to expand Missouri marriage rights within the last two months.

A federal judge declared Missouri’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional on Nov. 7.

Federal District Judge Ortrie Smith found that the ban violated the 14th Amendment and was therefore void in Lawson v. Kelly. Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster released a statement the same day stating he would appeal the decision.

This is the third landmark court decision in Missouri to expand same-sex marriage rights in the past two months. Barrier v. Vasterling was decided on Oct. 3., ruling that Missouri must recognize same-sex marriages that had been performed in other states.

On Nov. 5, a state judge ruled Missouri’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional in State of Missouri v. Florida under the 14th Amendment. In both this case and Lawson v. Kelly, the judges found that the ban violates the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses.

Article I, Section 33 of the Missouri Constitution, the same-sex marriage ban, states, “That to be valid and recognized in this state, a marriage shall exist only between a man and a woman.”

ACLU of Missouri’s Legal Director Tony Rothert led the legal fight for same-sex marriage in Missouri in both Barrier v. Vasterling and Lawson v. Kelly. Rothert said he was excited to see the ACLU’s work pay off in a big way.

“The ACLU has been involved in cases seeking to expand individual rights for members of the LGBT community for more than forty years,” Rothert said. “Since the 1970s, the ACLU has been pushing for marriage equality.”

This push has become especially prevalent within the last few years, Rothert said.

“In the past decade, as relationship recognition became a reality across the country, the ACLU has been exploring ways in which to bring these rights to gay men, lesbians, and their families in Missouri,” Rothert said. “We had been planning for many years to find the right clients and the right time to bring these cases.”

Rothert said he is optimistic and does not expect much to come of Koster’s appeal.

“The Attorney General has announced that he will appeal the decision in Lawson v. Kelly, which requires Missouri to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples,” Rothert said. “While an appeal might delay full marriage equality, it is clear that the result will be the demise of Missouri’s discriminatory barriers to marriage.”

Despite the state judge’s ruling on Nov. 5 in State of Missouri v. Florida, many Missouri counties still refused to administer marriage licenses, citing the ruling as only applicable to St. Louis.

However, once the appeals process has been exhausted, Rothert said he believes that the rulings will apply to the entirety of the state.

“These court decisions will apply to the entire state,” Rothert said. “The marriage bans have repeatedly been declared unconstitutional. Once a law has been declared unconstitutional, it is an elementary rule of law that it should not be enforced.”

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