Mo. Trial Court: Gay Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on October 06, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Add Missouri to the list of states the U.S. Supreme Court definitely doesn't won't take same sex marriage petitions from. Last week, delivering on its promise of a quick ruling, a Missouri trial court declared Missouri's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

Like many other same-sex marriage cases, the issue arose because same-sex Missouri residents had tied the knot in other jurisdictions where same gay marriage was legal.

Equal Protection

Missouri places limits on who can marry. Notably, first cousins are not allowed to marry; the state also does not recognize common law marriages. However, the state does recognize out-of-state marriages that were nevertheless valid in those states.

So Missouri will recognize a common law marriage from a state where that's legal, or a marriage between first cousins in a state where that's legal. But not a same-sex marriage? "By singing out plaintiffs' marriages for different treatment, the State defendants are singling out plaintiffs themselves and are doing so because of a characteristic that distinguishes them from other people: their sexual orientation," wrote Judge J. Dale Youngs.

Because no one has ever said so, the court decided not to use a heightened review standard and instead stuck to plain-Jane rational basis review to decide whether the state's classification was permissible. The only viable argument the state proffered was that it had an interest in "setting forth a standardized definition of marriage." While everyone acknowledged that this was a legitimate state purpose, the state couldn't justify why denying the "marriage" moniker to same-sex couples was rationally related to that interest.

Not Really Interested

The City of Kansas City only half-heartedly defended the law. Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, the city actually agreed that, if the court found the plaintiffs had standing, then the law was unconstitutional. The city similarly stipulated that the law also violated the plaintiffs' due process rights.

The court's relief extended to the entirety of the laws prohibiting same-sex marriage in Missouri, finding them unconstitutional and enjoining any state official from enforcing them.

Contained within the claim was also a request for relief under 42 USC § 1983. The court didn't calculate damages yet, and indeed, asked the parties to submit records to determine the amount of an award, if any. It's arguable that qualified immunity could apply here, at least to shield state officials from damages, as the law surrounding same-sex marriage is far from clearly established.

A similar case in Jefferson City, Missouri, was moved to federal district court. The outcome of that case is still pending, though in any event, the Eighth Circuit will soon join the Ninth, Fifth, and Sixth circuits in the company of circuits with outstanding same sex marriage decisions.

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