In a 20-page decision, Judge J. Dale Youngs of the 16th Circuit Court of Jackson County declares Missouri’s ban on recognizing same-sex marriage violates plaintiff same-sex couples’ constitutional right to equal protection.
“Under the Constitutions of the United States and State of Missouri, must defendants recognize out-of-state marriages between same-sex couples that are legal in the jurisdiction in which they were contracted — just as it recognizes all other similarly valid out-of-state marriages?” Youngs writes. “The answer is yes.”
Although plaintiffs assert Missouri’s ban on marriage recognition violates their right to due process, in addition to their right to equal protection, Youngs writes he need only find the law violates equal protection rights to rule against the law.
In anticipation that the ruling will be taken up by the Missouri Supreme Court, Youngs writes the district court believes “it is unnecessary to go further than it has, and accordingly declines to address that question here.”
The lawsuit, Barrier v. Vasterling was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, on behalf of 10 same-sex couples seeking to have their out-of-state same-sex marriage recognized under state law.
Youngs devotes a considerable portion of his ruling to explain that the only reason the state won’t recognize the out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples is singularly because the couples are of the same-sex.
“Plaintiffs are, without dispute, loving and committed couples who presented themselves at a recorder’s office, or its equivalent, in a jurisdiction where it is legal for same-sex partners to marry,” Youngs writes. “They are, therefore, legally married — both in the jurisdictions in which their marriages were contracted, and in other jurisdictions which recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages pursuant to the doctrine of lex loci contractus. Missouri follows the same doctrine and recognizes marriages deemed lawful in other states — for everyone except same-sex couples.”
No explicit stay is included in the decision. It wasn’t immediately clear whether that means the marriages of same-sex couples must be recognized at once in Missouri, or if more action is needed for that to happen.
It also remains to be seen whether state officials will appeal the decision. Eric Slusher, a spokesperson for Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, said the state is “reviewing the judge’s ruling.”
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a supporter of marriage equality, has already determined the same-sex couples who wed of out-of-state would be treated the same as different sex-couples for the purposes of state income tax filings, although that view was challenged by his Republican opponents.
The constitutional ban prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriages in Missouri was approved at the ballot in 2004, when it passed by 71 percent of the vote.
Marc Solomon, national campaign director of the LGBT group Freedom to Marry and a Kansas City native, praised the ruling, but said it’s time for the U.S. Supreme Court to make a final decision on the marriage issue.
“Couples in America should not have to play ‘now you’re married now you’re not’ as they travel, work, or move across state lines,” Solomon said. “Judge Youngs’s ruling powerfully affirms that principle. Yet the only way we’ll achieve national resolution on the freedom to marry is for the Supreme Court to take up a marriage case, bring an end to the unsustainable patchwork of marriage laws across the country, and affirm the freedom to marry for all.”