Equal Marriage Recognition Suits Filed in Louisiana, Missouri

LGBT organizations are taking aim at discriminatory marriage laws in two traditionally conservative states.

BY Sunnivie Brydum

February 12 2014 6:22 PM ET

Missouri plaintiff couple Sherie Schild and Janice Barrier

Laws in Missouri and Louisiana that prohibit each state from recognizing the legal marriages of same-sex couples performed in other states could soon be a thing of the past, if two recently filed lawsuits are successful. 

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in state court in Jackson County, Mo., today, on behalf of eight same-sex couples, taking aim at the state's statutory prohibition on recognizing as legal any marriage other than those between one man and one woman. Attorneys with the ACLU note that Missouri generally recognizes marriages performed in other states — unless those marriages are between two people of the same sex.

Among the plaintiff couples are Janice Barrier and Sherie Schild of St. Louis, who have been together for 30 years and married in Iowa in 2009. When Schild was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996, Barrier was forced to take a demotion to be able to secure enough time off to care for her wife. Five years later, Schild was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and had to leave the workforce, according to the ACLU. Because Missouri did not recognize the couple's marriage, Barrier could not add Schild to her company's health insurance. In 2012, Barrier herself was diagnosed with cancer. 

"We have both sacrificed our finances and our livelihoods in order to care for each other," Barrier said in a statement from the ACLU. "Our life savings have gone to paying medical bills. We are scared to death about what would happen if both of our cancers recur, or if one of us needs care in a nursing home and we’re denied the right to care for each other in privacy because the state views us as legal strangers. We just want the peace of mind of knowing we will always be able to look after each other."

Missouri's equal marriage prohibitions aren't the only discriminatory laws under fire in conservative states. Forum for Equality Louisiana has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of four same-sex couples, arguing that the state's refusal to recognize legal same-sex marriages performed in other states is a violation of the U.S. Constitution's promise of equal protection. The suit relies heavily on this summer's landmark ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Windsor, which struck down a key section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act — and which was heavily cited in a Kentucky judge's ruling today declaring unconstitional that state's refusal to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages.

In addition to the equal protection argument, the Louisiana suit contends that current statute requires married same-sex couples to break the law by mandating that they file state income taxes that mirror their federal returns — meaning that married same-sex couples can't file either set of taxes as married.

"Instead of piggy-backing on their joint returns filed with the federal government as all other married couples, same-sex couples must  go to the extra expense of creating fictitious federal returns in order to file their state return,  a violation of their First Amendment rights of free speech," argues the Forum for Equality on its website announcing the suit. 

Neither case has a scheduled hearing date yet.  

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