Yesterday, Circuit Court Judge Rex Burlison became the second judge in the State of Missouri to find unconstitutional the statutes and constitutional amendment defining marriage as strictly between a man and a woman.
His ruling came in a case that began when Mayor Francis Slay allowed four gay couples to wed in the City of St. Louis and the Recorder of Deeds and Vital Statistics issued the marriage licenses. The Attorney General filed suit to enjoin the licenses as violations of Missouri law.
In his opinion, Judge Burlison became the first judge in Missouri to rule that same sex couples, like heterosexual couples, have a fundamental right to marry the individual of their choice, a right rooted in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Judge Burlison also addressed the equal protection argument – that same sex persons were unfairly and illegally singled out and denied the same rights as heterosexual individuals. In this part of his ruling, Judge Burlison used strict scrutiny, heightened scrutiny and rational basis review – the three different levels courts use to review violations of constitutional rights. Interestingly, Judge Burlison became one of the few judges in the country to even apply strict scrutiny, normally reserved for the most fundamental of rights and race-based discrimination. However, his opinion could be read as resting solely on rational basis review, meaning that the State could not offer even a rational legitimate state interest that would justify denying same sex couples the right to marry.
The State has already filed a notice of appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court, so it seems Judge Burlison will not be the last word on this issue in St. Louis.
We expect that the City of St. Louis will resume issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples.
We will continue to keep you up to date on all of the latest developments on same sex marriage and divorce in Missouri.