In a case involving two same-sex couples who tried to obtain their marriage licenses in Jackson County back in June, a federal judge declared today that Missouri's gay-marriage ban is unconstitutional.
This comes just days after a St. Louis circuit judge reached the same conclusion, resulting in marriage licenses being issued in both the city and county.
Marriage licenses were held up in other parts of Missouri, however, as a statewide organization of recorders deemed that the order from the circuit judge only applies to the city. This ruling, from U.S. District Court Judge Ortrie D. Smith, would seemingly put that debate to rest -- however the judge's order would not go into effect until any and all appeals have been exhausted.
Attorney General Chris Koster announced this morning that he does plan to appeal the ruling to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
"This is the third Missouri court to look at marriage exclusion in the last month and the third court to find that it's unconstitutional under the 14th amendment. I think that's the big important thing that's happening here," said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. "I think it's a little less clear how this will play out in the next couple of days."
Update 2 p.m.: Jackson County, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, began issuing same-sex licenses today. Click here to read a statement from the recorder.
Update 11 a.m.: Koster's office just released this statement on the ruling, "The United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri today ruled that Missouri's ban against same-sex marriage violates the equal protection and due process guarantees of the United States Constitution. We will appeal the ruling to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals."
PROMO began a petition this morning asking Koster not to appeal -- view it here.
According to St. Louis University Law School dean Michael Wolff, practically speaking, this changes little when it comes to whether or not couples can go to their local recorder of deeds office and be issued a license. As of now those are still only available in the St. Louis metro area.
One county recorder's office that may change its procedures is Jackson County, which is named as a defendant in the ACLU's case. Rothert said he believes they may make a decision on whether or not to begin issuing licenses as early as today.
Here's a copy of the order:
A.J. Bockelman, executive director of PROMO, dashed off this quick response to the decision: "Federal Judge strikes the ban. There is a stay pending appeal, but if the state doesn't appeal, which we don't expect them to, then it is done. We have marriage equality statewide."
And here is the release from the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, who brought the case against the Jackson County recorder:
Missouri Joins 32 States and the District of Columbia that Allow Same-Sex Couples to Marry
KANSAS CITY, MO -U.S. District Court Judge Ortrie D. Smith ruled today that same-sex couples can obtain marriage licenses. This judgment strikes down Missouri's 2004 constitutional amendment that excluded gay men and lesbians from marriage allowing Missouri to join the 32 states and the District of Columbia that issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The ruling came in Lawson v. Jackson County, a lawsuit filed June 24 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri (ACLU of Missouri) on behalf of two couples (Angela Curtis & Shannon McGinty and Kyle Lawson & Evan Dahlgren), who were denied marriage licenses earlier this year.
"Sharing this news will be almost as exciting as when we got engaged," said Angela Curtis, who has been waiting to marry Shannon McGinty until they could do so in Missouri. "It was important to us to wait for full marriage equality where we could celebrate with all of our family and friends in the state where we live," explains Shannon McGinty.
"This is a historic day for same-sex couples, who have waited far too long to be able to marry in Missouri," said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. "It feels great for Missouri to join the mainstream by allowing loving couples to formalize their commitment with marriage."
"Today's ruling affirms what the ACLU has always proclaimed--same-sex couples and their families should be treated just like any other loving family," said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. "Missouri will no longer categorically exclude gay men and lesbians from the institution of marriage--marriage is marriage, regardless of your sexual orientation."
We'll continue to update this post when we hear how Attorney General Christ Koster intends to proceed.
Email the author at Jessica.Lussenhop@RiverfrontTimes.com.