Missouri Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

November 10, 2014

Employee Benefit & HR News

The first week of November has been a busy one regarding developments striking down the same-sex marriage ban in Missouri.

On November 5, St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison held, “the Court finds and declares that any same-sex couple that satisfies all the requirements for marriage under Missouri law, other than being of different sexes, is legally entitled to a marriage license.” The Court went on to hold that the Missouri same-sex marriage ban violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Judge Burlison‘s ruling came as a result of a case filed earlier this year by the State of Missouri against the Recorder of Deeds and Vital Records for the City of St. Louis. The case sought to restrain the City of St. Louis from issuing additional marriage licenses to same-sex couples following the issuing of such marriage licenses in June, 2014. Judge Burlison’s opinion is available here.

Two days later, on November 7, U.S. District Court Judge Ortrie D. Smith issued a similar ruling in Kansas City striking down Missouri’s 2004 constitutional amendment precluding same-sex couples from marrying. Judge Smith held that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage “violates the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” The Court explained that Missouri “would permit Jack and Jill to be married but not Jack and John. Why? Because in the latter example, the person Jack wishes to marry is male. The State’s permission to marry depends on the genders of the participants, so the restriction is a gender-based classification.” Judge Smith’s opinion is available here.

Attorney General Chris Koster is appealing both rulings.

In the interim, what do these decisions mean for the residents of Missouri? And what are the impacts relative to employee benefit plans? For the time being, it is primarily “wait and see”.

In the short term, same-sex couples are immediately able to file for marriage licenses in St. Louis City and St. Louis County. In fact, same-sex couples have already been married at the City Hall in St. Louis. Questions remain as to how the ruling will be handled by other counties in Missouri. If the decisions are upheld on appeal, same-sex spouses will have the opportunity to access employee benefits offered to legally married couples. In that circumstance, it will be important for employers to review policies and procedures related to the treatment of same-sex spouses to insure those policies are both in line with the intent of the employer and in line with federal and states laws.

In the longer term, a host of state laws will need to be reviewed and additional legislation will need to be drafted if the decisions are deemed final.

We will continue to follow this topic for additional developments and provide updates as they become available.

As of the publishing of this article, same-sex marriage is legal in 32 states and the District of Columbia.

Please reference our previous articles for additional information:

 

 

 

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About Rick Ewers

Mr. Ewers is an analytical consultant providing financial analysis, vendor evaluations, market & compliance analysis, as well as national industry trending for group employers.

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