A federal court in Missouri issued a decision Friday against the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, making for the latest blow against a law already stricken down by a state judge.
In an 18-page decision, U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith, a Clinton appointee, determined Missouri’s prohibition on marriage for same-sex couples violates their rights to due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“[I]t should not be forgotten that the Constitution is also an expression of the people’s will,” Smith writes. “Indeed, it is the paramount expression of the people’s will; it cannot easily be cast aside or circumvented by a vote of the citizens of a single state. Just as Missouri citizens cannot abridge the First Amendment by amending the Missouri Constitution, they cannot abridge the Fourteenth Amendment in that manner.”
Justifying his ruling, Smith invokes the words of the first Secretary of Treasury and co-author of “The Federalist Papers” Alexander Hamilton, whom Smith said asserted the “the judiciary’s role in insuring the Constitution’s role as the preeminent law of the Nation.”
Smith writes at the end of his ruling decision is stayed until appeals are final in the case. Same-sex couples were already wedding in Missouri thanks to an earlier decision this week from a state judge against the marriage ban, although there’s dispute as to whether that ruling applied to the entire state.
The lawsuit, Lawson v. Kelly, was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri on behalf of two same-sex couples — one male, the other female — who sought to receive a marriage license in Jackson County, but were rejected.
Shannon McGinty, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said in a statement she was excited about the ruling because she wants to marry in the state she calls home.
“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,” McGinty said.
Just this week, Circuit Judge Rex Burlison struck down the law after it was challenged by former Recorder of Deeds & Vital Records Registrar of the City of St. Louis Sharon Quigley Carpenter, who for a short time decided to wed same-sex couples on her volition. The state already was recognizing same-sex marriages performed out-of-state thanks to another decision from a state court.
But the latest decision marks the first federal ruling marriage within the Eighth Circuit after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision against the Defense of Marriage Act. If state officials appeal the decision, it could be a vehicle to bring marriage equality to the remaining states without marriage equality in the jurisdiction: Missouri, Arkansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. But leaving the decision alone would ensure marriage rights for same-sex couples in Missouri.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, has already pledged to appeal the ruling to the circuit court with jurisdiction over Missouri.
“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,” Koster said. “We will appeal the ruling to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.”
The ruling comes on the heels a decision from the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upholding bans on same-sex marriage in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, opening up the possibility once again for the Supreme Court to consider the marriage issue.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the Missouri decision is in line with the numerous other courts on same-sex marriage in contrast to the Sixth Circuit decision.
“Today’s federal court ruling is further evidence that discriminatory marriage bans don’t pass Constitutional muster,” Griffin said. “Whereas yesterday two judges of the Sixth Circuit firmly planted themselves on the wrong side of history, Judge Smith’s ruling today is in keeping with an overwhelming majority of federal court rulings that make clear discrimination has no place in our society, must less our laws. Now more than ever before the Supreme Court of the United States must resolve the issue once and for all.”