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Mass. ruling sparks debate on gay marriage

February 04, 2004
By: Jonathan Moxey
State Capital Bureau
Links: HJR 39

JEFFERSON CITY - Massachusetts high court's ruling Wednesday reaffirming same-sex couples' right to marry has fired up debate among Missouri's lawmakers.

At issue is whether Missouri will have to recognize gay marriages.

Under the Full Faith and Credit clause in Article IV of the U.S. Constitution, states are required to observe the judicial proceedings of other states. This would allow any same-sex couple to maintain their married status, so long as they were married in a state that performs gay marriages. However, Missouri law currently prohibits gay marriages even if they are valid where they took place.

"We're reviewing the court's decision to determine how it will affect Missouri laws," said Attorney General's Office Spokesman Scott Holste.

The court ruled that same-sex couples are entitled to full, equal marriage rights, not just Vermont-style civil unions. The nation's first gay marriages could take place as early as mid-May unless the state's legislature intervenes.

The opinion was issued in response to a request made by the Massachusetts Senate about whether civil unions, which allow the benefits but not the title of marriage, would be constitutionally acceptable.

Opponents have proposed a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and woman, which could complicate the issue if enacted. It passed out of a House committee last week and is expected to move to the floor for debate.

Rep. Larry Morris, R-Springfield, said the court's decision has increased the resolve of gay marriage opponents to get the amendment passed.

"We will get it done," Morris said. "When any group in our society can't go through the legislative process and get what they want, typically they go to the courts."

Rep. Barbara Fraser, D-St. Louis County, disagrees.

"I think the courts are doing what they are supposed to do," Frasier said. "They are looking at the law in terms of the law and not really at emotional issues."

She added that the proposed amendment is intent on discriminating against individuals who seek same-sex unions.

"It would be the only thing within our Constitution that is specifically discriminatory," Fraser said.