BY Loann Halden
October 01 2009 2:55 PM ET
Kansas City-based attorney Jolie Justus made the transition from life in the closet to becoming Missouri's first openly gay state senator in less than five years. On May 1, Justus generated more queer ink when she and her partner of two years, Shonda Garrison, boarded the Show Me Equality bus in St. Louis and traveled to Iowa City for a legal tying of the knot. In October the couple will hold a commitment ceremony in front of family and friends on their farm near Missouri's capital, Jefferson City.
The senator's home state is taking a decidedly more circuitous route toward gay acceptance, passing a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage in 2004. But on the municipal level, there are reasons for optimism.
St. Louis passed a law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, credit, public access, and education back in 1992. Across the state, Kansas City's employment nondiscrimination law includes protections for gender identity as well. This is the push and pull of Missouri politics -- which Justus calls "a big roller coaster" -- but it doesn't deter the Democratic activist from encouraging potential LGBT visitors to give the heartland a chance.
Advocate.com: It must have been incredibly bittersweet to have to cross the state line into Iowa to tie the knot.
Jolie Justus: We traveled with 16 other couples on a bus that day, and it was really striking to me because we went north through Hannibal, Mo., to get to Iowa City, and as we crossed the Missouri-Iowa border, nothing looked different. It was the same farmland; everyone looked exactly the same. It just seemed so bizarre to me that we couldn't be married in Missouri but we could be married in Iowa, which is frankly so much like Missouri.
I'm always going to fight for marriage equality in Missouri, but right now we're trying to get a [statewide] nondiscrimination act passed. Every state now that has marriage equality or is on the path to marriage equality actually had a nondiscrimination act on the books first.