JEFFERSON CITY — Rep. Adam Schnelting says his bill, which he informally refers to as the “Get Government Out of Marriage Bill,” is not about same-sex marriage.
“The bill is very fair,” he said. “It treats everyone equally under the law. It just reduces the role that a government plays in an institution as private and sacred as marriage.”
But opponents of the bill argued during a Monday hearing that it would unfairly discriminate against same-sex couples.
The bill, HB 2173, changes state laws regarding marriage and replaces marriage licenses with contracts of domestic union.
Schnelting, R-St. Charles, said he proposed the bill to limit the role of government in marriage to recording marriages, “rather than authorizing them via the licensure process,” he said.
He presented the bill to the House General Laws committee Monday. A similar bill, House Bill 62, was proposed in 2017 by Rep. TJ Berry, R-Kearney. It did not pass.
Under the bill, the state would not require or facilitate ceremonies, but would allow for civil or religious ceremonies of marriage.
“I’m trying to understand why you’re doing this,” said Rep. Tracy McCreery, D- St. Louis. “And all I keep coming back to is how hurtful and divisive it is.”
Schnelting said he has been considering such legislation since 2014, a year before Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court case which made same-sex marriage the federal law.
“Since gay marriage became the law of the land, my marriage has not been impacted at all,” McCreery said. “I don’t think anybody in this room could raise their hand and honestly say that since gay marriage was made legal that their marriages have deteriorated. I feel like this bill is actually kind of a solution looking for a problem.”
A similar bill passed in Alabama in 2019, removing the power to grant marriage certificates from courts and instead allowing couples to sign an affidavit with a judge. The bill came into law after some conservative judges in Alabama stopped issuing marriage licenses because they viewed doing so as endorsing the union, according to NBC News.
“I would suggest that this legislation could be considered unconstitutional by stripping a right that the Supreme Court has deemed as fundamental,” said Denise Lieberman, a Washington University School of Law adjunct professor and member of Missouri LGBT advocacy group PROMO.
There are about 1,000 legal benefits offered to married couples that are unavailable to domestic partners, Lieberman said.
After members of the House General Laws committee questioned Schnelting about the bill, committee chair Rep. Dean Plocher, R-St. Louis, allowed for about 30 minutes of public testimony. No one spoke in favor of the bill.
Sara Baker, legislative and policy director for the ACLU in Missouri, testified not in her professional capacity, but as the wife of an immigrant. She was concerned that this legislation could make more difficult the “already so complicated” immigration system.
“I want to make sure that love is love and the best way to make that happen is through marriage justice,” she said.