KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A judge struck down part of Missouri’s gay marriage ban for the first time on Friday by ordering the state to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states, saying state laws banning the unions single-out gay couples “for no logical reason.”
The order means that such couples will be eligible to sign up for a wide range of tax, health insurance, veterans and other benefits now afforded to opposite-sex couples. Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, who has defended the state’s ban on gay marriage, said his office was reviewing the ruling.
The ruling was made in a lawsuit filed by 10 same-sex couples who were married in states where gay marriage is legal. The couples argue that their rights to equal protection and due process are being violated by Missouri’s ban on gay marriage.
Jackson County Circuit Judge J. Dale Youngs agreed, ruling that the couples deserve the same recognition as opposite-sex couples who were married in other states. He said Missouri’s bans serve no legitimate government interest.
“The undisputed facts before the Court show that, to the extent these laws prohibit plaintiffs’ legally contracted marriages from other states being recognized here, they are wholly irrational, do not rest upon any reasonable basis, and are purely arbitrary,” Youngs wrote. “All they do is treat one segment of the population – gay men and lesbians – differently than their same-sex counterparts, for no logical reason.”
The lawsuit before Youngs only challenges Missouri’s refusal to recognize marriages legally performed in other states, not laws that bar same-sex couples from getting marriage in Missouri. But it is the first ruling to strike down part of the state’s ban on gay marriage.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which helped the couples, applauded the ruling.
“We’re gratified that the court recognized that married same-sex couples and their families are no different than other couples, and that the Constitution requires them to be treated equally,” ACLU attorney Tony Rothert said. “This is not the first court to reach this conclusion, but it is the first court to do so in Missouri, so it’s a tremendous day for our state.”
He said the ruling means that thousands of Missouri couples who got married in other states can now qualify for spousal government benefits and, on a smaller level, make changes such as changing their last name to match their spouse’s on their Missouri driver’s license.
The case is among at least three challenging Missouri’s ban on same-sex marriage. 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. The lawsuits 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 tax, health and other benefits to legally married gay couples.
Youngs said he expects the Missouri Supreme Court to weigh in on the overall issue and “provide the last word on all of the important legal issues presented by this case.”
Developing story. This report will be updated.
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