Missouri Judge Grants State's First Same-Sex Divorce

By Daniel Reynolds

Originally published on Advocate.com May 05 2014 12:26 PM ET

A Missouri judge has granted a divorce to a same-sex couple, and authorities believe it to be the first to occur in the state, which does not recognize same-sex marriage.

Last month Judge Leslie Schneider ruled that Samantha and Dena Latimer, Missouri residents who had married in Massachusetts in 2009, could divorce under the grounds of comity, a legal principle that allows for the recognition of laws in other jurisdictions, reports the Columbia Daily Tribune

The Boone County circuit judge reasoned that, although Missouri currently has a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, the court may recognize a same-sex marriage performed in another state "for the limited purpose of granting equitable relief." As precedent, Schneider cited a 1993 trial in which the court ruled on a marriage where the partners had not obtained a legal marriage license.

The ruling also declared that the state "runs afoul of its due process obligations" provided by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution if the court denies same-sex couples the right to divorce.

Christopher Clark, a representative of Lambda Legal, told the Tribune this is the first divorce of a same-sex couple in Missouri of which the LGBT legal advocacy organization is aware. However, he pointed out that Schneider’s reasoning has been employed by judges in other states in order to dissolve the unions of gay and lesbian couples in similar situations.

"Same-sex couples are like everybody else in that they have relationships that sometimes don't work out," he said.

In 2004, 74 percent of voters approved Missouri's Defense of Marriage Act. A June 2012 survey by Public Policy Polling showed that acceptance of same-sex marriage in Missouri is growing, however, with 64 percent saying same-sex couples should be allowed either to marry or enter into civil unions.