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Missouri Joins the Move Toward Marriage Equality

In his decision, among other things, Judge J. Dale Youngs points out the discriminatory hypocrisy of the state’s position, noting that Missouri recognizes marriages contracted in other states of other couples who don’t meet the requirements Missouri puts forward for getting a marriage license in Missouri.

Missouri took a big step toward full marriage equality yesterday, as Judge J. Dale Youngs in the 16th Circuit Court of Jackson County (Kansas City) ruled on the state’s ban on recognizing out-of-state marriages between two men or two women. The initial paragraph of the opinion, outlining the order and judgement, sums things up nicely:

Under the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Missouri must defendants (the state and its officials) recognize the out-of-state marriages between same-sex couples that are legal in the jurisdiction in which they were contracted — just as it recognizes all other similarly valid out-of-state marriages? The answer is yes. To the extent sections 451.022 and 104.012 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri and Article I, section 33 of the Missouri Constitution purport to compel a different conclusion, they are invalid.

This was a case in which both sides stipulated to the facts (yes, these couples have marriage licenses issued properly by other jurisdictions, and yes, they have standing to sue) and the only argument was about the interpretations of law that governed these facts. Sadly for the state defendants, they didn’t have much to use in their own defense.

As Youngs described the legislative history of the ban, he started with a 1996 law that prohibited Missouri from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, which was followed in 2001 by an amendment that prohibited the state from recognizing same-sex marriages contracted elsewhere. Said Youngs, “This 2001 amendment marked an unprecedented departure from the well-established rule in Missouri and other states that ‘a marriage, valid where contracted, is valid everywhere.’ Green v. McDowell, 242 S. W. 168, 171 (Mo. App. 1922)”

In cases challenging the right of same-sex couples to marry, this “unprecedented departure from the well-established rule” is the hurdle that these couples have to clear. And they couldn’t even come close.

Youngs points out the discriminatory hypocrisy of the state’s position in noting that Missouri recognizes marriages contracted in other states of other couples who don’t meet the requirements Missouri puts forward for getting a marriage license in Missouri (like first cousins or certain couples under age 18). Says Youngs:

Missouri has historically recognized the validity of such marriages if they were lawful in the state in which they were contracted. By singling out plaintiffs’ marriages for different treatment, the State defendants are singling out the plaintiffs themselves and are doing so because of a characteristic that distinguishes them from other people: their sexual orientation. Simply put, if plaintiffs were treated the same as their opposite-sex counterparts with legal out-of-state marriages, their marriages would be recognized in Missouri. They are not.

Just to drive the point home, he includes in a footnote the classic formulation of the right of the courts to judge these cases, from WV State Board of Education v Barnette in 1943: “Fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no election.”

Snap.

Youngs continues to call out the state for the poor logic of their position as the opinion goes on. When considering the level of scrutiny by which these discriminatory laws should be judged, he said he didn’t even need to get into the issue, “because [this Court] concludes that the statutes and constitutional provisions at issue here are not rationally related to a legitimate governmental interests and, thus, cannot survive even the most deferential level of scrutiny.”

Snap.

But the best paragraph of all comes on page 13, where Youngs writes this:

Plaintiffs address in their motion a number of possible legitimate interests that could be advanced to provide a basis for the refusal of the State defendants to recognize plaintiffs’ out-of-state marriages. See Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment, pp. 35-47. To their credit, the State defendants do not attempt to argue that any of these potential justifications for treating plaintiffs’ out-of-state marriages differently than those of opposite-sex couples are legitimate interests, or that the disparate treatment of plaintiffs and their out-of-state marriages is rationally related to advancing those interests. This may be because each of these justifications has been largely rejected by the courts that have examined it using this deferential standard. See id.: see also, Baskin v. Bogan, 2014 WL 4359059 (7th Cir. Sept. 4, 2014).

Snap. Snap.

And to drive the point home even further, there’s another juicy footnote here about some of these arguments , that concludes with two of the most powerful sentences from from the opinion in Baskin:

Lastly, and in any even, the “responsible procreation” theory held by the Bruner court to be a legitimate government interest that is rationally advanced by banning same sex marriage is a theory that has been rejected by other courts, most recently in Baskin, 2014 WL 4359059 at *10 (“Heterosexuals get drunk and pregnant, producing unwanted children; their reward is to be allowed to marry. Homosexual couples do not produce unwanted children; their reward is to be denied the right to marry. Go figure.”)

Snap Snap SNAP!

(Have I mentioned that I love legal footnotes?)

Youngs continues to mock the inconsistency of the state arguing that they need to discriminate against same-sex couples with legal marriages in order to promote “consistency, uniformity, and predictability” — a goal that this discriminatory ban does nothing to advance.

[T]here is no logical relationship between that interest and laws that discriminate against gay men and lesbians who have been married in jurisdictions in which same-sex marriages are legal. This is especially so where out-of-state marriages of similarly-situated opposite-sex couples are recognized without question in Missouri, and have been for decades — even in cases where those same marriages would be “presumptively void” if contracted here, such as marriages between first cousins, or “null and void” as is the case with common law marriages.

“There is no logical relationship . . . ” is the refrain that goes throughout the opinion, as well as the stream of cases now converging on the Supreme Court, which is kind of the point of the plaintiffs here. Discrimination is not logical. It is many things — hateful, hurtful, and destructive come to mind — but it is not logical.

Kudos to Judge Youngs for joining the judicial chorus in making that abundantly clear to everyone.

Photo by way of 16th Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri

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Peterr

Peterr

I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.

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