Why Gay Marriage Licenses Are Not Being Issued in Greene County

Nov 7, 2014

Greene County recorder of deeds says same-sex couples can receive marriage licenses but they’ll have to go to St. Louis. The Kansas City ruling currently has a stay.
Credit KSMU archives

A ruling by a federal judge in Kansas City on Friday striking down Missouri’s ban on same-sex marriage marks the second legal victory this week for the state’s LGBT citizens. But as KSMU’s Anna Thomas explains, same-sex couples wanting to marry locally will still have to wait.

Attorney General Chris Koster says he will appeal today’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith to the full Eight Circuit Court of Appeals. Koster is also appealing the same conclusion reached Wednesday by a St. Louis circuit judge to the Missouri Supreme Court.

Here’s the different in the two decisions. At the federal level, Judge Smith immediately stayed his ruling pending Koster’s appeal. But at the state level, no stay was issued, and the AG is not stopping clerks from issuing marriage licenses while he appeals the ruling. But many county officials feel the St. Louis decision by state judge Rex Burlison does not apply to all of Missouri.

Cheryl Dawson is the Greene County recorder of deeds.

“He [Burlison] was actually very specific in that judgment, that the recorder of deeds for the city of St. Louis has the authority to issue marriage license to any same-sex couple,” Dawson said.

Dawson says same-sex couples can receive marriage licenses but they’ll have to go to St. Louis. In the meantime, her office will await the appeals court’s rulings.  

“We’re just waiting to see what decision comes down from there, because of course as you know, it’s in the Missouri constitution, it’s also in the statutes that guide us as recorders,” Dawson said.

But Tony Rothert, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, says this shouldn’t be the case since the state was a party in both of the lawsuits.

“There is no question that excluding gay and lesbian people from receiving marriage licenses is unconstitutional, and it shouldn’t take litigation against each recorder of deeds to make them comply with the constitution but if it does, then that’s what will happen,” Rothert said.

The question of when a decision will be made for the entirety of Missouri is still up in the air. Rothert said the issue has moved too quickly for him to predict.