Missouri Supreme Court to decide if same-sex divorces are legal
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Missouri Supreme Court to decide if same-sex divorces are legal

Date: December 3, 2014
By: Jill Ornitz
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Although Missouri does not recognize same-sex marriage, a case involving the right for a same sex-couple married in another other state to obtain a divorce could allow the court to overturn a statewide ban on same-sex marriages.

The state supreme court heard a case Wednesday morning that argued Missouri's Constitution, which prohibits the recognition of gay marriage within the state, does not apply to same-sex marriages from other states, according to attorney Drey Cooley.

Missouri's policy on gay marriage has seen significant changes since the couple originally filed for divorce in 2012. State judges in St. Louis and Kansas City struck down aspects of the state's gay marriage ban in November, saying the ban violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Cooley's case went unchallenged in court today. Calls to the Attorney General's office went unreturned. In October, Koster announced he would not appeal a state court decision requiring the state to recognize same-sex marriages granted in other states.

Later, Koster announced he would appeal two other decisions requiring the state to grant gay marriages.

One decision came from a state circuit court in St. Louis, the other from a federal district court in Kansas City.

"Our argument is also based on the fact that the court doesn't have to recognize, validate, affirm or approve the marriage," Cooley said. "They need to recognize another state did."

The couple in this case married in Iowa and one partner filed for divorce at the St. Louis County Circuit Court. The court dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning the partner, who would only be identified by his initials, couldn't re-file at a later date.

"My client does feel stuck in the situation and he just wants the same rights as anyone else in that situation," Cooley said after court. "Whatever way my client can get a dissolution is optimal for us."

Cooley told the Supreme Court judges that the rest of Missouri's courts are waiting on their decision to move forward issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

Although the case before the Missouri Surpreme Court involves recognition of a same-sex marriage granted in another state, Cooley told the court that the issue before them was broader.

"In fact, there's a tremendous amount of uncertainty, in fact, maybe even greater uncertainty, as we sit here today," Cooley said. "The problem is that we have recorders offices that are still not issuing marriage licenses because they want a more formal understanding from this court."

Cooley compared his client's situation to Missouri's stance on common law marriages, which Missouri does not recognize. However, residents of the state who were granted a common law marriage outside of Missouri can still file for divorce, even though Missouri doesn't recognize the marriage.

Ultimately, Cooley said the point of his client's case was not to rewrite Missouri law, but to ensure his client receives fair treatment from Missouri's courts.

"My personal hope would be the constitutional resolution, but again my personal hope has no bearing here because we have a client who is merely seeking a dissolution," Cooley said. 

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