JEFFERSON CITY - While John and Joan can be happily married in Missouri, state lawmakers were urged Wednesday not to extend the same opportunities to the state's John and Johns -- or Joan and Joans.
A broadly accepted policy discussed at the Senate Civil Justice Committee meeting would ban legal recognition of same-sex marriages and is on the fast track to becoming law in the state of Missouri.
Though homosexual individuals and advocacy groups regard this ban as discriminatory, the legislation's sponsor, Sen. Dave Klarich, R-St. Louis County, said the issue is largely that of economics, not tolerance.
"This doesn't stop homosexuals from being homosexuals; it doesn't stop them from having relationships," said Klarich, who acknowledged that state-endorsed marriages translate into tax breaks for heterosexual couples. "The state is not involved in their right to have a relationship but on economic benefits."
Klarich said that since lawmakers and their constituents do not support homosexual marriages, long-term, same-sex couples have no right to marital benefits.
But members of the gay community say the state has no right to legislate whom a person can marry.
"Whether or not gay people should get married should not be up to the state; it should be up to the individuals," said the Rev. Tim Price of Columbia's Agape Church, which ministers especially to the gay community.
"This is just one of many areas where lesbians and gays have been discriminated against," said Mark Reed of St. Louis. He has been in a committed gay relationship for 12 years and has exchanged vows with his partner in a public ceremony.
Inheriting a spouse's property or even visiting an ill spouse in the hospital -- these are activities curtailed by the lack of official recognition, Reed said.
Under present law, the county recorder's office cannot issue a marriage certificate to same-sex couples because the Missouri marriage statute only refers to marriage between a man and a woman.
In 1996, lawmakers passed a similar law in response to predictions that Hawaii would recognize same-sex marriages.
Critics charged that 1996 effort violated the U.S. Constitution's "full faith and credit" clause. Under that clause, a contract, such as marriage, recognized by one state must be accepted by all the other states.
The 1996 law was rejected by the courts on a procedural issue unrelated to the same-sex marriage issue.
"The overwhelming support will be equally displayed in 1999 and reflects the people lawmakers represent," Klarich said in reference to the margin of legislative support for the 1996 law.