COLUMBIA— It just so happened that I was listening to “The Best of Paul Simon” and “Me and Julio down by the Schoolyard” at the same time that I happened upon two stories in the Missourian. The stories were about Gov. Jay Nixon allowing same-sex couples married in other states to file their 2014 tax returns as “married” and the ensuing wrath of the GOP. Then came the song’s refrain: “It’s against the law; what mama saw; it’s against the law.”
"Mama" in this case came in the form of two lawmakers, Nick Marshall, R-Parkville, and Chuck Gatschenberger, R-Lake St. Louis.
Gatschenberger is calling for an investigation of Nixon’s recent order to the Department of Revenue to accept the status of “married” for same sex couples legally married in other areas, for example, Illinois or Washington, D.C.
Marshall is calling for the impeachment of the governor for accepting “joint tax filings from same-sex couples who are legally married, the release of the names of concealed gun permit holders to a federal agent and driver's license procedures.”
State statute says the impeachment process can happen only if the elected executive official, in this case Nixon, “shall be liable to impeachment for crime, misconduct, habitual drunkenness, willful neglect of duty, corruption in office, incompetency, or any offense involving moral turpitude, or oppression in office.” (RSMo 106.020)
Poor administrative direction is not covered in the statute and the term “misconduct” is not defined. So, did the governor overstep his authority with the order that marriage licenses legally issued by other states be recognized by the Missouri Department of Revenue for tax purposes? We recognize marriage licenses from other states of heterosexual marriages, so why not marriage licenses of same-sex couples? The law remains unclear.
On one side we have a constitutional amendment denying marriage equality by declaring a marriage is between one man and one woman. On the other hand, by U. S. Supreme Court decision, the Defense of Marriage Act was declared unconstitutional, and the IRS is now permitting same-sex married couples to file their tax returns jointly. Because Missouri tax laws follow the federal tax law, Nixon has ordered the Department of Revenue to do the same.
The question as to Nixon’s involvement in the distribution of conceal and carry gun permit holders’ data and driver’s license procedures is still in question and, if directly involved, may equate to a form of “misconduct” that is grounds for impeachment. However, the connecting theme concerns marriage equality, the letter of the law and the conflict with the state constitution.
Though Marshall told The Associated Press “that his motivations are not political gain or attention,” that is exactly why one would call for the impeachment or investigation, to gain a foothold as a strong right-wing conservative so he (or she) can hold his seat in the House and possibly move to the Senate or beyond.
An equal problem is the cost of the impeachment process and the unholy divide between the GOP and Democrats in both chambers of the legislature. The House will decide if there is enough evidence for the impeachment trial and then the Senate would appoint a “special commission” of “seven jurists” to try the cause. (§106.080) Because of the makeup of both chambers, this would be a politically motivated action, not one of judicial review as any impeachment would require.
The process can take longer than the legislative session, would delay other needed and necessary legislation from being processed and would cost the taxpayers of Missouri a yet-to-be-calculated toll; money the states does not have to waste.
Although I do support marriage equality and the governor’s orders to permit joint returns for all married in other states, the question of the conflict is an important one to consider and should be left to the courts, not the legislative branches and their political agendas.
I believe that the call for impeachment is wrong but the call for judicial review is not. It is time for the courts to decide if Missouri’s Article 1, section 33, “That to be valid and recognized in this state, a marriage shall exist only between a man and a woman,” meets the rule of federal law, or like DOMA, is discriminatory to one class of people.
David Rosman writes a weekly column for the Missourian. He is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics.