The decision, which follows a similar one earlier this week in St. Louis, means that same-sex marriage licenses now are being issued in Missouri’s two largest urban areas. But officials across much of the rest of the state aren’t following suit, asserting that the court cases don’t apply there.
U.S. District Judge Ortrie R. Smith had written Friday that he was delaying the effect of his ruling while it is appealed, but officials in Jackson County announced later in the day that they would immediately begin granting marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.
Moments later, John Kenny Rodricks and Robert Gann were married at the Jackson County courthouse in a ceremony presided over by a retired state judge with throng of media cameras surrounding them. Rodricks said the couple had initially been denied a marriage license earlier in the day.
“We said, ‘Well, we’re not leaving without a wedding license today,’ and we sat downstairs in the recorder of deeds office and we didn’t move,” Rodricks said.
In all, Jackson County issued 16 marriage licenses to same-sex couples Friday, the county’s public information officer said.
Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, a Democrat, said officials decided to proceed with same-sex marriages because “courts are ruling that marriage is a fundamental right of every citizen.” He added: “Sound public policy dictates that right be applied uniformly across the state.”
But Missouri now has a patchwork of gay marriage policies.
Officials in St. Louis city and county began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples after a state lower-court judge ruled Wednesday that Missouri’s constitutional ban on gay marriage violated the U.S. Constitution. But officials throughout much of the rest of the state have declined to issue licenses while following guidance from the Records’ Association of Missouri.
Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat who has expressed personal support for gay marriage, has appealed the St. Louis court ruling to the Missouri Supreme Court. Koster said Friday that he would appeal the federal court ruling to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In his ruling, Smith wrote that Missouri’s gay marriage ban violated same-sex couples’ rights to due process and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution. The court finds “no real reason for the State’s decision to dictate that people of the same gender cannot be married,” he wrote.
Lawyers for same-sex couples seeking the right to marry said the ruling should go into effect immediately across the state.
“Each recorder of deeds can begin complying with the Constitution as it’s been interpreted by a state judge and a federal judge now, or there can be more litigation” against each county, ACLU attorney Tony Rothert said.
Smith’s ruling is the first by a federal court against a gay marriage ban in the territory of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota, since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down portions of the Defense of Marriage Act last year.
It comes a day after a panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned lower court rulings that had struck down gay marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. But several U.S. appeals courts in other regions of the country have ruled in recent months that states cannot ban gay marriage.
At least 30 states allow same-sex marriage, many prompted by a Supreme Court decision last month that turned back appeals from five states seeking to uphold bans.
Missouri’s constitutional amendment barring gay marriage was approved by about 70 percent of voters in 2004, making the state the first to adopt a constitutional ban following a decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court permitting gay marriage.
Gov. Jay Nixon, speaking at an unrelated news conference in Kansas City, deferred to Koster, but said he expects gay marriage to eventually become legal across Missouri.
“The legal arc is clearly pointing that way,” he said.
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