Last week we discussed in this post the existing roadblocks that many same-sex couples face in seeking a divorce when the state in which they reside does not recognize same-sex marriage.
This week we can update you on two critical developments in recognizing same-sex marriages.
First, a circuit court in Jackson County ruled that Missouri’s statutory and constitutional restriction on marriage between a man and a woman is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause, at least as far as recognizing these marriages in Missouri if validly obtained in another state. Various same-sex couples sued to have their marriages recognized by Missouri so they would be eligible for a variety of state benefits currently available only to heterosexual married couples. The court determined that the legal barriers could not even survive the lowest level of scrutiny because they treated same-sex marriages differently for “no logical reason.” The court noted that the exception to recognizing marriages deemed against the public policy has not been applied uniformly, as Missouri recognizes marriages between first cousins and common law marriages, even though Missouri law prohibits both types of unions.
What does the ruling mean?
- Same-sex couples lawfully married in another state must be allowed to register their marriage in Missouri and receive all of the same benefits as other married couples.
- Same-sex couples living in Missouri and wanting to divorce in Missouri should be able to do so, as divorce is a “benefit” available to other married couples.
What does the ruling not do?
- It does not authorize circuit courts to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples seeking to wed in Missouri.
- It could be delayed if the State seeks an appellate review from the Missouri Supreme Court.
So, it seems that within one week of blog time we have resolved the issue of same-sex divorce in Missouri.
The other big development occurred Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear seven cases from different state and federal courts challenging same-sex marriage. As a result, the decisions striking down these bans on same-sex marriage become the law of the state or federal circuit if a federal case. Overall, the one action by the Supreme Court brought the number of states that legalize same-sex marriage from 19 to 30 in one fell swoop.
While these are great steps forward in marriage equality, more remains as states continue to wrestle with uniformity and the application of these rules to different situations. Divorce still remains problematic (though less so) for many couples in the 20 states that have not legalized same-sex marriage.
We will continue to keep you up to date on the latest developments.
If you have questions about same-sex marriage or divorce, contact our St. Louis family law attorneys – we can help.