The three gay couples sat in the front row of the St. Louis courtroom Monday morning, listening as attorneys argued whether their three-month-old marriages should be legally recognized in Missouri.
Tod Martin and David Gray. Bruce Yampolsky and Terry Garrett. John Durnell and Richard Eaton.
They are three of the four couples who were married in June at St. Louis City Hall, after then-Recorder of Deeds Sharon Carpenter issued them licenses and Mayor Francis Slay offered his offices for their ceremonies.
The fourth couple, Miranda Duschack and Karen Davis, did not attend the short hearing, where Circuit Judge Rex Burlison heard arguments from both sides but gave no indication when he would rule.
“We’re confident and optimistic,” said Martin, deputy chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.
“How can someone else choose for me who I choose to marry?” Gray said, referring to the state’s constitution, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
Martin and Gray have been a couple for 23 years.
The hearing Monday came less than a week after a judge in Kansas City heard arguments on whether 10 couples married in states or countries where such unions are legal should have their relationships recognized in Missouri. The judge in Kansas City promised a quick decision but did not say when that would be.
The action by Carpenter led Attorney General Chris Koster to file an injunction preventing more marriage licenses from being issued to same-sex couples.
Koster supports same-sex marriage but said he has a responsibility to defend Missouri law. On Monday morning, one of his assistants, Jeremiah Morgan, reminded Judge Burlison that 71 percent of voters in August 2004 supported a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and that two decisions last year by the U.S. Supreme Court should not “disrupt a state’s sovereignty.” Morgan also argued the Kansas City case Thursday.
City Counselor Winston Calvert told the judge that while voters statewide approved amending the constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman, the majority of St. Louis voters voted against it.
Marriage is a fundamental right of all citizens, he argued. The 10-year-old amendment “categorically denies that right to an entire class of people,” Calvert said. Laws have evolved over time, he said, referring to extending voting rights to women and African-Americans, and changing laws that once banned inmates, those who have epilepsy and interracial couples from marrying.
No matter which way the judges in Kansas City and St. Louis rule, both cases are expected to be appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court.
In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act. The ruling allows gay couples who live in states where their marriages are legally recognized to receive the same federal benefits as married opposite-sex couples.
That decision stopped short of saying gay marriage should be legal in every state. But in a separate ruling the same day, the country’s high court cleared the way for same-sex marriages to continue in California, after a lengthy legal battle.
Since those rulings, advocates have won 40 of 42 legal challenges seeking to either overturn gay marriage bans or to have out-of-state marriages recognized, triggering almost immediate appeals.
The latest victory came on Sept. 22, when a state judge in Louisiana ruled that a ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Like Missouri, Louisiana voters in 2004 amended marriage language in the constitution.
There are more than 80 cases pending in 31 states that prohibit gay marriages. Nineteen states and Washington, D.C., already recognize same-sex marriage.
A third same-sex marriage case in Missouri awaits a hearing. In June, after two gay couples were denied marriage licenses in Kansas City, the ACLU of Missouri sued Jackson County, asking a court to declare the ban unconstitutional. That case currently sits in federal court.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court began meeting Monday to consider a long list of pending appeals, including five on same-sex marriage. It can consider one, combine the cases or set them aside for another time. Should the justices agree to hear any of the cases, arguments would likely begin early next year.
“I’m ready to issue licenses to anyone who wants to marry,” said Recorder of Deeds Jennifer Florida, who was appointed in July by Slay. Carpenter resigned the remainder of her term as penalty for violating the state’s nepotism law. Carpenter and Florida will face off in the November election.