The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to force Missouri to recognize same-sex marriages performed in places that allow them, saying the state's refusal to do so "undermines the couples' ability to achieve their life goals and dreams."
The ACLU filed the lawsuit in a Kansas City state court on behalf of eight same-sex couples who live in Missouri and were married elsewhere. The litigation was announced at news conferences in Kansas City, St. Louis, Jefferson City and Springfield.
A similar lawsuit was filed in Louisiana on Wednesday. In 2004, voters in Louisiana and Missouri overwhelmingly approved constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriages.
The ACLU said the lawsuit is not about making same sex marriage legal in Missouri but about making sure same-sex couples who move to the Show-Me State have the same rights as other married couples in the state. In addition, the lawsuit aims to protect same-sex couples who live in Missouri but marry in another station, such as Iowa, and are then treated as "legal strangers" in Missouri.
"These laws are out of sync with the values of Missouri. These laws are out of sync with what Missouri wants. These laws are out of sync for taking care of our families," said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri.
Among those who want the state to recognize their marriage are Janice Barrier and Sherie Schild, of St. Louis County, who have been together for 33 years and who got married in Iowa in 2009. Both Barrier, 61, and Schild, 60, have battled cancer in recent years, and they worry about what the future holds if the state refuses to recognize their marriage.
"We're really concerned that if one of us would end up in a nursing home, we might not have the same rights to care for each other in privacy that different-sex married couples enjoy in Missouri," Barrier said. "It's so very important to us that we're not torn apart at the very end of our lives."
The lawsuit details cases involving shared property, medical leave, surviving death benefits and other issues that same-sex couples face.
Gay marriage opponents contend that marriage should be restricted to being between a man and woman, and say they hope judges will allow states to choose their own path. Missouri's Republican-led Legislature has shown no interest in changing the state's policy of not recognizing same-sex marriages performed in one of the 17 states or in countries that allow them.
The ACLU says the policy is unfair.
"The refusal to recognize plaintiffs' marriages undermines the couples' ability to achieve their life goals and dreams, threatens their mutual economic stability, and denies them a dignity and status of immense import," the lawsuit argues.
Throughout the country, courts and the federal government have increasingly been moving toward allowing and recognizing same-sex marriage. On Tuesday, Nevada's attorney general and governor said the state will stop defending its constitutional ban on same-sex marriages, a case that was pending before a federal appeals court. Federal courts in Utah and Oklahoma recently struck down gay marriage bans.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon drew criticism from gay marriage opponents in November when he directed the state Department of Revenue to accept joint tax returns from same-sex couples who are legally married in other states. The state attorney general's office has said the policy appears to comply with Missouri law.
The directive prompted a lawsuit filed by same-sex marriage opponents, and led a Republican lawmaker last week to file articles of impeachment against the Democratic governor.
James MacDonald and Andrew Schuerman are among the plaintiffs. They have been a couple for 12 years, and were married in Vancouver in 2005. They live in Kansas City with their daughter, who is a toddler.
"They want Missouri to recognize their marriage to protect Grace and the surviving spouse in the event that one of them dies, and to enjoy the same rights as different-sex married couples in terms of inheritance and end-of-life decision making," according to the lawsuit. "The cost of securing health insurance coverage for the family is greater because Jim and Andy's marriage is not recognized by Missouri."
Schuerman said he is grateful for the opportunity to be heard in court.
"We want our marriage recognized in situations large and small," he said. "The biggest thing for us is taking care of our daughter. . . Our daughter deserves to have her family recognized just as all her friends are who happen to be born into families of different genders."
U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Republican, said she believes the courts will uphold the 2004 vote.
"The people of Missouri voted overwhelming to define marriage as between a man and a woman in our constitution. That's not unconstitutional. That's democracy in action. People have a right to decide the policies that govern them," she said in a statement.
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