ACLU challenges marriage rules

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- 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."

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ACLU sues Mo. for not recognizing gay marriages

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.

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 hitched 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."

After a Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling permitted gay marriage in that state, Missouri in 2004 became the first state to enact a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage. The measure was approved by 70 percent of Missouri voters.

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 couple 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.

EARLIER COVERAGE

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union plans to file suit challenging Missouri’s treatment of same-sex marriages, an ACLU spokeswoman said Tuesday.

ACLU’s Diane Balogh said the suit will be filed Wednesday in state court in Kansas City, but she refused to discuss specific details. News conferences announcing the litigation are planned for today in Kansas City, St. Louis, Jefferson City and Springfield.

It was unclear if the ACLU suit will challenge Missouri’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriages or if it would simply ask that the state recognize marriages from other states.

Missouri in 2004 became the first state to enact a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage after the Massachusetts Supreme Court permitted gay marriage there. The Missouri measure was approved by 70 percent of the vote.

In the decade since then, much has changed. Courts and the federal government have chipped away at laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. Seventeen states now allow it.

On Tuesday, Nevada’s attorney general and governor said the state has decided against defending its constitutional ban on same-sex marriages, a case that was pending before a federal appeals court. Federal courts in other states have struck down same-sex marriage bans, most recently in Utah and Oklahoma.

But many Missouri legislators and interest groups continue to staunchly defend marriage as between a man and a woman.

Joe Ortwerth, executive director of the Missouri Family Policy Council, noted that Missouri voters “emphatically” chose against gay marriage in that 2004 vote.

“We pray that our state judiciary will respect U.S. Supreme Court precedent that makes clear that laws governing marriage and the family are the rightful jurisdiction of the states,” Ortwerth said in a statement.

In November, Gov. Jay Nixon directed the Missouri Department of Revenue to accept joint tax returns from same-sex couple who are legally married in other states. The state attorney general’s office has said the policy appears to comply with Missouri law, though a lawsuit filed by same-sex marriage opponents has challenged the directive.

Nixon’s directive prompted a Republican lawmaker last week to file articles of impeachment against the Democratic governor.

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ACLU sues Mo. for not recognizing gay marriages

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