JEFFERSON CITY – Every year, state lawmakers pass legislation to remove language from Missouri statutes that is defunct or moot.
This year, discussion centered around wording that wasn’t being removed, rather than what was.
Missouri Statute 451.022 states that “any purported marriage not between a man and a woman is invalid” and that marriage licenses can’t be issued.
That wording is now unconstitutional, and same-sex marriages are legal. But it persists in state statute.
During debate in the state House on Wednesday, Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-St. Louis, moved to eliminate the statute by adding an amendment to House Revision Bill 1. That’s the mechanism used by lawmakers to clean up old language.
“I want Missouri to be a place where people can live and work and go to school and love whoever they want to love,” McCreery said. “I think that by striking this antiquated language it sends a message that the legislature is trying to make Missouri a more welcoming place.”
Her amendment failed because of a procedural violation.
Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Imperial, sponsored the bill, which was put together by the Joint Committee on Legislative Research. The committee combs through state statutes and removes any that are defunct.
Shaul said state law doesn’t allow revision bills to be amended on the House floor and said it could have been taken care of earlier in the process if lawmakers had wanted to do so.
“There are members on the committee that could have asked it to be added,” Shaul said, but no one did. “It wasn’t even defeated — it wasn’t even asked to be put on by the committee.”
He noted that separate legislation could also strike the outdated statute if a lawmaker filed it.
“Rather than rely on a committee, why don’t they just file the bill?” Shaul asked.
McCreery said that proposing a bill is not a viable way forward.
“If I had a bill that would propose that (striking the statute), the bill would not get a hearing, and it would just be referred to a committee on the last day of session,” McCreery said. “So I don’t have any pathway for this.”
For LGBTQ+ lawmakers and advocates, the impact of keeping the wording on the books extends further than its legal implications. Sen. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, is the only openly LGBTQ+ member of the state Senate.
“We vote on banning discrimination of all sorts of bizarre things,” Razer said. “We can never come around to finding a way to vote on banning discrimination against people like me.”
The conflict is reminiscent of other LGBTQ+ advocacy efforts that have been unable to move forward in the Missouri legislature, the most prominent being the failure to pass the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act.
On the floor, Shaul said this issue has been raised seven times in previous years. McCreery didn’t know a specific number but said she has brought up the amendment “multiple” times on the House floor. Yet, the statute remains in Missouri law.
“The reason I keep trying is because I think every year that goes by, more and more of my colleagues realize that Missouri does not want to have the reputation of being a state where people can’t get married to the people they love,” McCreery said.