JEFFERSON CITY - On Ken Jacob's first day as a student of family law at MU, the professor asked this future senator of Columbia a simple question:
What is marriage?
The answer, said Jacob, was that it is a status; that is, it is a legal description of a relationship between a man and a woman that has one purpose: to protect children.
With this question, and its answer, in mind, Jacob joined other senators in unanimity at Tuesday's session in approving a bill that will make Missouri's ban on marriage between same-sex couples more explicit. Senate debate on the bill lasted only a few quiet minutes.
"Missouri is silent on this issue," said Sen. Dave Klarich, R-St. Louis County. The state's current marriage laws refer to "husband" and "wife," but do not explicitly prohibit same-sex marriages.
It's not a new issue for legislators. A similar law was passed in 1996 but struck down by the courts on a techniciality involving an unrelated component to the bill.
"At that time Hawaii was trying to decide whether to give consent to same-sex marriage," said Sen. Dave Klarich, sponsor of this year's bill.
Lawmakers sought to block state recognition of any gay marriages that might be recognized in Hawaii. But some legislators warned the U.S. Consititution's "full faith and credit" clause concerning contracts may include marriages. This would require Missouri to recognize a marriage contract from another state.
The issue became moot when Hawaii did not recognize same-sex marriages. As a result, no state in the U.S. formally recognizes gay marriages.
"Generally speaking, in this society there is no doubt that people in homosexual relationships feel pain," Jacob said of their inability to share a public commitment to each other.
"It's painful to not be understood, to not be accepted, but let's go back to what we are talking about here." Marriage, he said, is about families, a crucial component in society.
"The joining of male and female for the purpose of reproduction is critical to the preservation of us," Jacob said. Same-sex couples may want recognition, he said, but it is not critical to society.