KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri doesn’t allow first cousins to legally marry, but recognizes such marriages if they were legally performed in other states. The same goes for couples who were too young to wed in Missouri but were allowed to do so elsewhere.
An attorney for 10 same-sex couples who legally wed in other states told a Jackson County judge on Thursday that Missouri’s refusal to grant his clients the same courtesy amounts to state-sanctioned discrimination that serves no legitimate public interest.
“This case is really about a government depriving the plaintiffs of the benefits of marriage because the plaintiffs are of the same sex,” said Anthony Rothert, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.
The 10 couples are suing Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, state Attorney General Chris Koster and Gail Vasterling, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, along with the city of Kansas City, for refusing to recognize their marriages. They are seeking a permanent injunction requiring Missouri to recognize legal same-sex marriages performed in other states.
Jeremiah Morgan, assistant state attorney general, said Thursday that Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment in 2004 declaring marriage is between a man and a woman. Morgan, who spoke during oral arguments, said the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly said states have the right to define marriage, which has historically been a bond between a man and a woman.
Tara Kelly, an attorney for the city of Kansas City, told Circuit Judge James Dale Youngs the city supports same-sex marriage and provides as many benefits to same-sex couples as allowed by state law.
“Kansas City’s stand is that Missouri’s ban is unconstitutional,” she said.
The lawsuit mirrors dozens of others across the U.S. 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.
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriages. The American Civil Liberties Union says it has marriage cases pending against 13 other states, of which five are before federal appeals courts.
The Jackson County case is one of at least three challenging Missouri’s same-sex marriage ban. The others include a federal challenge in Kansas City and a St. Louis case in which city officials granted marriage licenses to four same-sex couples to trigger a legal test of the ban.
Youngs said he would take the case under advisement but gave no timeline for his ruling.
“By no means will anything I say be the last word,” he said.