WHAT OTHERS SAY: Holy Chutzpah! St. Louis takes on the state's gay marriage ban

Thursday, June 26, 2014 | 12:38 p.m. CDT; updated 1:46 p.m. CDT, Thursday, June 26, 2014

Tears flowed. Blessings were proffered. There were tuxedos and white dresses, bow ties and cummerbunds. But when the four distinct ceremonies ended Wednesday night in the office of Mayor Francis Slay, one thing was the same:

With kisses and embraces, four St. Louis same-sex couples had vacated their seats on the back of the marriage bus and made history.

In private, sworn to secrecy beforehand, they were married, two by a judge, one by a minister, another by an enthusiastic rabbi.

"Holy chutzpah," declared Rabbi Susan Talve as she married Bruce Yampolsky and Terry Garrett, two native St. Louisans and military veterans who have been together for 30 years.

They were the last of the four couples to get married, breaking a barrier in Missouri never before crossed. They followed John Durnell and Richard Eaton, partners for 30 years; Tod Martin and David Gray, who got engaged June 26, 2013, the day the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in U.S. v. Windsor, which has spurred a rush of legalized same-sex marriage across the country; and Miranda Duschack and Karen "Mimo" Davis, who wore white lace gowns to commemorate their historic day.

Direct challenge

Earlier in the day, Recorder of Deeds Sharon Quigley Carpenter, relying on legal advice she had requested from former Missouri Supreme Court Judge Mike Wolff, now the dean of the St. Louis University Law School, issued marriage licenses to the four couples, making them civil rights pioneers in a state that was the first in the nation to have both statutory and constitutional prohibitions against same-sex marriage.

On the morning of their wedding day, two different federal courts struck down similar discriminatory bans in Utah and Indiana. The Utah ruling, issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, is particularly significant in that directly applies the Supreme Court's decision on the Defense of Marriage Act to states that ban same-sex marriage.

"A state may not deny the issuance of a marriage license to two persons, or refuse to recognize their marriage, based solely upon the sex of the persons in the marriage union," wrote Circuit Judge Carlos F. Lucero in the Utah case.

Ms. Carpenter, who was urged on by Mr. Slay, came to the same conclusion in agreeing to defy Missouri's ban. The mayor, who counts three openly gay or lesbian siblings among his 10 brothers and sisters — including a brother who married his partner in New York recently — took on the role of wedding planner. He was directly challenging Missouri's constitutional ban against gay marriage.

The smiles, the love and the freedom that filled his office Wednesday night was a testimony to an adroit political calculation and the moral imperative to simply get the government out of the discrimination business.

"People shouldn't be discriminated against because of who they love," Mr. Slay said in an interview.

Wednesday night was about love and freedom.

Seeking freedom

"Take a deep breath," advised the Rev. Wes Mullins of the Metropolitan Community Church, as he made Mr. Durnell and Mr. Eaton the first gay couple to have their wedding legally performed in Missouri.

"Breathe in the new freedoms that we unleash here tonight. In this moment we stake our claim and proclaim our right that all types of love are blessed by God and, we trust very soon, recognized by all the people of Missouri."

Now the politics take over.

Thursday morning, because legally he has few other choices, Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, sought a temporary restraining order to bar the city from issuing any further same-sex marriage licenses.

Mr. Slay and Ms. Carpenter had already informally agreed to stop issuing such licenses, hoping this case will head quickly to the state's top court. The Missouri Supreme Court hopefully will do what every other court in the nation has done since the DOMA decision: Rule that state-sanctioned discrimination is a direct violation of the 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law.

Since that decision a year ago overturning sanctioned federal government discrimination against gays and lesbians, 15 federal judges and Supreme Courts in several states have reached the same conclusion. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia currently recognize the rights of gays to marry. Missouri should soon join border states Iowa and Illinois and stand for freedom.

Give it to Schaefer

Here's our suggestion for Mr. Koster as he fights for a constitutional ban he personally opposes: Find an intern, maybe a recent law school graduate who barely passed the bar, and give him the case.

Better yet, ask state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, who wants to be the next attorney general, to handle it. Let him explain to his gay and lesbian law partners at Lathrop & Gage why he believes they shouldn't be married.

Or maybe ask putative GOP gubernatorial candidates Catherine Hanaway and Tom Schweich, the state auditor, to arm-wrestle over the case. They, too, have worked for big-city law firms with partners and associates who are gay. The firms, like most St. Louis businesses, have anti-discrimination practices in place because they are light years ahead of the state's broken political system. Why? It's good business. Top talent isn't always straight.

Here's what would be truly just: Mr. Schweich, Ms. Hanaway and Mr. Schaefer should join the growing number of Republicans who recognize, and will admit publicly, that their party's platform against gay marriage is both unconstitutional and politically unwise.

The government's role in denying equal rights to our neighbors, coworkers and fellow citizens who happen to be gay or lesbian must come to an end.

It's worth noting that the four weddings performed Wednesday in St. Louis each had a different feel to them. This is true of all marriages, performed by all variety of faith traditions in our country.

No court decision getting the government out of the discrimination business is going to have an effect on the religious traditions in those faiths that don't recognize the legitimacy of gay marriage, or gay clergy, for instance. The issue with same-sex marriage is simply one of civil rights.

In standing up for the 14th Amendment the U.S. Supreme Court didn't erase the First. It strengthened it. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., taught us, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

On Wednesday night in St. Louis, that arc was the color of a rainbow, and it lighted the way forward to the day when the state of Missouri will rid its constitution of words meant solely to make one class of people less than their neighbors.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.

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