JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Gov. Jay Nixon said Thursday that he supports ending Missouri's same-sex marriage ban and thinks voters should have a chance to repeal an amendment to the state constitution that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
In 2004, Missouri became the first state to enact a constitutional prohibition on gay weddings after the Massachusetts high court permitted gay marriage there. The measure was approved by 70 percent of the state's voters.
"I hope the voters will have a chance to revisit that issue," Nixon, a Democrat, said in response to questions at an event sponsored by the Missouri Press Association and The Associated Press. "If it appeared on the ballot again, I would vote to allow same-sex marriage."
Nixon's comments came one day after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit seeking to force Missouri to recognize the out-of-state marriages of several same-sex couples. But the governor said a vote was the appropriate way to change the state's marriage laws, not a lawsuit.
"My personal belief is that we shouldn't treat folks differently because of who they are and who they love. If folks want to get married, they should be able to get married," Nixon said.
The move is the latest action by Nixon to call for expanded protections for the gay community. Last month, he asked lawmakers to pass legislation that would bar discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation. He also directed state tax officials last year to accept joint returns from gay couples legally married in other states.
Both of those moves have been criticized by the state's Republican-controlled Legislature. Senate Republicans said they had no plans to bring the discrimination measure to the floor.
"I'm not sure I'm ready for that," said Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard, of Joplin. "It has nothing to do with sexuality. I'm just not sure I'm ready to put it in firm law yet."
Nixon's directive to accept joint tax returns from gay couples prompted a lawsuit from Baptist officials and others seeking to declare his actions in violation of the state Constitution. It also caused several state lawmakers to file articles of impeachment against the governor. Nixon called the impeachment resolution a "publicity stunt" on Thursday.
Same-sex marriages can currently be performed in 17 states.