ST. LOUIS (AP) -- A state judge overturned Missouri’s constitutional ban on gay marriage Wednesday in a ruling that immediately set off a rush among some same-sex couples to apply for marriage licenses.
St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison said in a written ruling that Missouri’s measure recognizing marriage only between a man and woman violates the due process and equal protection rights of the U.S. Constitution. The decision mirrored ones handed down recently in several other states.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said in a news release Wednesday that the issue needed to be resolved by the Missouri Supreme Court and that he would appeal.
Koster released the following statement shortly after the ruling was made.
“The circuit court of the City of St. Louis today ruled that Missouri’s ban against same-sex marriage violates the equal protection and due process guarantees of the United States Constitution. We have appealed the ruling to the Missouri Supreme Court. The constitutional challenge to Missouri’s historically recognized right to define marriage must be presented to and resolved by the state’s highest court. Following decisions in Idaho and Alaska, the United States Supreme Court has refused to grant stays on identical facts. We will not seek a stay of this court’s order when the United States Supreme Court has ruled none should be granted.”
After hearing about Wednesday’s ruling, Kelley Harris and Kelly Barnard drove immediately to St. Louis recorder of deed’s office to apply for a marriage license. They called a photographer to record the event and planned to invite friends to attend an impromptu ceremony at a local park. The couple had held an unofficial wedding ceremony in 2003.
“We’ve already been living as a married couple—we have children, we have family—so it would be nice to have the legal backing,” Harris said.
The city of St. Louis issued four marriage licenses to same-sex couples in June and then quit doing so, intentionally setting up a legal challenge to the state’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Assistant Attorney General Jeremiah Morgan argued during a September court hearing that 71 percent of Missourians had voted for the referendum and said that the U.S. Supreme Court has time and again allowed states to define marriage.
St. Louis City Counselor Winston Calvert countered that the existing law treats same-sex couples as “second-class citizens.” He said an increasing number of states are allowing gay couples to wed, including most of the states surrounding Missouri.
“Obviously this is a long time coming for so many gay and lesbian couples in the state of Missouri and the city of St. Louis in particular,” Calvert said Wednesday.
Jackson County Circuit Judge J. Dale Youngs’ recent order requiring the state to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states allowed married gay couples to be eligible to sign up for a wide range of tax, health insurance, veterans and other benefits now afforded to opposite-sex married couples. In saying he wouldn’t appeal that ruling, Koster stated, “Missouri’s future will be one of inclusion, not exclusion.”
A federal court case in Kansas City also challenges Missouri’s gay marriage ban.
The lawsuits in Missouri mirror dozens of others across the country that argue state bans on gay marriage violate the due process and equal protection rights of same-sex couples. The suits are based on the same arguments that led the U.S. Supreme Court last year to overturn part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that denied a range of tax, health and veterans benefits to legally married gay couples.
Gay marriage is legal in 32 states and the District of Columbia, and bans in other states face legal challenges.