Missouri Supreme Court says lower courts can consider same-sex divorce cases

Missouri Supreme Court in Jefferson City, Mo. SUMMER BALLENTINE [ap]

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A St. Louis County Circuit Court judge should not have dismissed a request to divorce a same-sex couple, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, but didn’t decide on the broader issue of whether judges can grant divorces to gay couples.

Missouri Supreme Court in Jefferson City, Mo.

Missouri Supreme Court in Jefferson City, Mo.

The ruling kicks the issue back to the St. Louis judge to at least consider the request from the man, who was married in Iowa. But it’s still unclear whether gay marriages can be dissolved while separate rulings that overturned Missouri’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage are being appealed.

At issue is the December 2012 marriage and August 2013 separation of a man identified in court documents as M.S., and his partner, identified as D.S. “Ultimately,” Drey Cooley, M.S.’ attorney, said Tuesday. “The case is just about two people seeking a divorce.”

A judge had denied M.S.’s petition for a divorce last January saying he lacked jurisdiction because of bans on same-sex marriages in state statutes and the Missouri Constitution. It was appealed to the state high court; because the state was not a party in the divorce case, there was no attorney to defend the constitutional provision.

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“The only appropriate thing for the court to do is to make a ruling to dismiss the case based on the fact that there is nothing valid here to invalidate,” said Kerry Messer, head of the Missouri Family Network, which opposes same-sex marriage.

But Supreme Court judges said in an opinion issued Tuesday that Missouri judges do have jurisdiction and, if nothing else, could deny requests for same-sex divorce.

Tuesday’s unanimous opinion could result in another court battle over whether same-sex couples living in Missouri can be divorced in a state that prohibits such marriages, although that ban has been thrown into question.

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