Several Missouri counties still refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples

Missouri

Missouri

ST. LOUIS — Some Missouri counties still won’t issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite last week’s Supreme Court ruling, prompting an advocacy group to threaten legal action Wednesday to force compliance.

Katie Stuckenschneider of St. Louis-based PROMO, which advocates for LGBT equality, said the organization is working with the American Civil Liberties Union in weighing possible lawsuits if counties don’t comply.

The Supreme Court ruled Friday that marriage is a constitutional right equally held by all Americans. A few counties nationwide are refusing to issue licenses to same-sex couples, mainly in the Bible Belt and the Midwest. PROMO’s website has a map that shows two dozen of Missouri’s 114 counties aren’t doing so.

But Jan Jones, president of the Recorders Association of Missouri, said virtually all counties in Missouri plan to start issuing licenses to same-sex couples. Some are waiting for the arrival of new certificates or software to print new certificates, since the old ones cited Missouri law that previously defined marriage as between a man and a woman, she said.

At least one county is outright refusing to issue licenses, though. Linda Blessing, recorder of deeds in Schuyler County in northeast Missouri, cited religious reasons.

“That is a decision I’ve made,” Blessing said. “Biblically, I think it’s incorrect. I think the decision that the Supreme Court made was wrong.”

It wasn’t immediately clear if the state could force Blessing to comply. A message left with the Missouri Attorney General’s office was not immediately returned, but legal experts are dubious that religious freedom arguments will protect public officials.

No gay couples have requested a marriage license in the county that’s near the Iowa border, but Stuckenschneider said there is a couple there waiting for clarity on how to proceed. The couple declined an interview request.

In southeast Missouri, Pemiscot County Recorder of Deeds Pam Strawbridge said she will reluctantly issue licenses, “if I have to.”

“It’s just my religious beliefs. I don’t think it’s right, but I will follow the law,” she said.

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Oregon County Recorder Dawn Holman initially held out because the licenses on hand still include language prohibiting same-sex marriage. With no money in the budget for new licenses, her office in southwest Missouri is volunteering to cross out that wording with a pen if the couple requests.

“We will just have to use what we have,” she said.

The same issue has forced Vernon County to upgrade its software to print new licenses, Recorder of Deeds Doug Shupe said. He expects the county to start issuing licenses by the end of the week.

“I’m not refusing,” Shupe said. “We’re trying to make it right for them.”

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