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Marriage Equality

Missouri Marriage Ban Struck Down Again

Missouri Marriage Ban Struck Down Again

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For the second time this week, Missouri's ban on same-sex marriage has been ruled unconstitutional -- this time by a federal judge.

Just two days after a state judge reached the same conclusion, a federal judge in Missouri found that the state's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution's equal protection and due process clauses.

There is a stay on the order pending an appeal from the state, meaning same-sex couples cannot yet marry statewide, but advocates close to the case suggest that Missouri's attorney general is unlikely to file an appeal -- which means couples should soon be able to marry in the Show-Me State.

U.S. District Judge Ortrie D. Smith issued his ruling Friday morning in a case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri on behalf of two same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses in Jackson County, Mo.

Building on recent legal precedent at the U.S. Supreme Court and in lower federal courts, Smith concludes that there is, indeed, a constitutional right for citizens to marry a person of their choosing -- regardless of the gender of that partner. The federal judge applies strict scrutiny in his decision, building upon a growing legal precedent that requires judges consider laws infringing on the rights of gay and lesbian people as similarly suspect to laws that discriminate on race, religion, ethnicity, and other protected classes.

Missouri first enacted a statutory ban on same-sex marriage in 1996, then enshrined that prohibition into a constitutional amendment, which voters overwhelmingly approved in 2005.

Dismissing the state's argument that restricting who can marry in Missouri promotes uniformity, Smith calls the state's argument "circular," noting that "all restrictions create rules, so by the State's loving any restriction is automatically constitutional simply because it creates rules that can be followed." Smith expands this flawed logic to point out that a rule restricting marriage to people with one-syllable names would similarly create "uniformity," though it would clearly be unconstitutional. Ultimately, Smith declares that the state has provided "no real reason" for its determination that people of the same gender cannot be married.

Judge Smith therefore prohibits the defendant, Robert T. Kelley, the director of the Jackson County Department of Recorder of Deeds (who is responsible for issuing marriage licenses), from refusing to issue a marriage license to a couple solely on the basis of the gender of the two applicants.

"There is no hardship in requiring that public officials adhere to the Constitution, and the public interest is always served when the Constitution is obeyed."

In a similar but separate case, a state-level judge in St. Louis also found Missouri's ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional on Wednesday, ordering the city of St. Louis to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately. The state's Democratic attorney general, who has said he personally supports marriage equality, filed an appeal in that decision, but did not ask for a stay, meaning same-sex couples have been marrying at St. Louis City Hall since Wednesday afternoon.

Advocate Magazine - KehlaniAdvocate Magazine - Gus Kenworthy

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