ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Missouri joined the growing list of states facing legal challenges to their gay marriage bans Wednesday, when the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit seeking to force it to recognize the out-of-state marriages of several same-sex couples.
Tears flowed openly as eight Missouri same-sex couples from across the state participated in news conferences in Kansas City, Jefferson City, Springfield and St. Louis, to announce the litigation, filed in state court in Kansas City.
ACLU of Missouri Legal Director Anthony Rothert said state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage – approved by 71 percent of voters in 2004 – makes same-sex couples “legal strangers in their home state.”
“Because of the many benefits of marriage, Missouri has traditionally recognized lawful marriages performed in other states,” said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. “We know that the people of Missouri are fair-minded and did not intend to harm these eight families and others like them throughout Missouri. But our current laws do harm them.”
The plaintiff couples say the ban excludes them from most state and many federal protections available to legally married opposite-sex couples in Missouri.
The suit is being filed in state court because the ACLU said it views this as a state constitutional matter.
While not specifically calling for a repeal of the constitutional ban, Rothert said there is the possibility of a broader ruling striking down the marriage ban depending on the state’s defense.
Rothert said the ACLU has a “50-state strategy” to push for the legalization of same-sex marriage, but he declined to say if or when legal action will be taken seeking to force Missouri to do so.
“Because of the many benefits of marriage, Missouri has traditionally recognized lawful marriages performed in other states,” said Jeffrey Mittman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Missouri. “We know that the people of Missouri are fair-minded and did not intend to harm these eight families and others like them throughout Missouri.”
“But our current laws do harm them,” said Mittman.
The plaintiff couples are:
- Janice Barrier and Sheri Schild – married in 2009, and together for more than 30 years;
- Lisa Layton-Brinker and JoDe Layton-Brinker – married in 2010, together for six years, their family includes three children, ages 17, 20, and 21;
- Zuleyma Tang-Martinez and Arlene Zarembka – recently celebrated their thirty-first anniversary as a couple, and were married in 2008;
- James MacDonald and Andrew Schuerman – together for twelve years, married in 2005, and raising their two-year-old daughter;
- Elizabeth Drouant and Julikka LaChe – married in 2010, and together for ten years;
- Ashley Quinn and Katherine Quinn – together for eight years and married in 2010;
- Adria Webb and Patricia Webb – married in 2010 and are raising two children, aged 12 and 13; and
- Alan Ziegler and LeRoy Fitzwater – have been a couple since 2001, and were married in 2008.
Missouri was the first state to enact a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage following the 2004 Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in that state.
In the decade since then, much has changed. Courts and the federal government have chipped away at laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. Seventeen states now allow it.
“As we approach a full decade since the passage of Missouri’s Constitutional Amendment on marriage, we know this has been a decade of hardship on gay and lesbian couples,” said A.J. Bockelman, Executive Director of PROMO, a statewide advocacy organization.
“The tide has turned, and we now see state after state taking a supportive position and extending the basic benefits of marriage to our couples. It is past time for Missouri to be on the right side of history and declare Missouri’s Amendment unconstitutional,” said Bockelman.