ACLU to challenge Missouri gay marriage rules

Tuesday, February 11, 2014 | 2:48 p.m. CST; updated 6:43 a.m. CST, Thursday, November 6, 2014

ST. LOUIS — The American Civil Liberties Union plans to file suit challenging Missouri's treatment of same-sex marriages, an ACLU spokeswoman said Tuesday.

ACLU's Diane Balogh said the suit will be filed Wednesday in state court in Kansas City, but she refused to discuss specific details. News conferences announcing the litigation are planned for Wednesday in Kansas City, St. Louis, Jefferson City and Springfield.

It was unclear if the ACLU suit will challenge Missouri's constitutional ban on same-sex marriages or if it would simply ask that the state recognize marriages from other states.

Missouri in 2004 became the first state to enact a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage after the Massachusetts Supreme Court permitted gay marriage there. The Missouri measure was approved by 70 percent of the vote.

In the decade since then, much has changed. Courts and the federal government have chipped away at laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. Seventeen states now allow it.

On Tuesday, Nevada's attorney general and governor said the state has decided against defending its constitutional ban on same-sex marriages, a case that was pending before a federal appeals court. Federal courts in other states have struck down same-sex marriage bans, most recently in Utah and Oklahoma.

But many Missouri legislators and interest groups continue to staunchly defend marriage as between a man and a woman.

Joe Ortwerth, executive director of the Missouri Family Policy Council, noted that Missouri voters "emphatically" chose against gay marriage in that 2004 vote.

"We pray that our state judiciary will respect U.S. Supreme Court precedent that makes clear that laws governing marriage and the family are the rightful jurisdiction of the states," Ortwerth said in a statement.

In November, Gov. Jay Nixon directed the Missouri Department of Revenue to accept joint tax returns from same-sex couple who are legally married in other states. The state attorney general's office has said the policy appears to comply with Missouri law, though a lawsuit filed by same-sex marriage opponents has challenged the directive.

Nixon's directive prompted a Republican lawmaker last week to file articles of impeachment against the Democratic governor.

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