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Springfield's LGBT Community, Supporters Celebrate Landmark Ruling

For Springfield resident Pat Healy, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday morning making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states is a long time coming.

“I’m so glad to see, finally, the real equality that our Constitution is supposed to afford all of us.”

Healy’s same sex relationship lasted nearly 40 years until his partner died due to health complications in 2013.

“And the worst thing was seeing on his death certificate ‘unmarried male.’ Because we were not allowed to be married,” Healy said.

For as long as he can remember, Healy has been comfortable with his sexuality, due in large part to the support of his family.

“My eight brothers, my two sisters, my mother, my dad introduced him [my partner] to me. So they were okay with it. And my dad was a Marine. So were all my brothers. So I figured that if my dad could be okay with it I had nothing to hide anymore, and I’ve been out since then forever.”

Credit Scott Harvey / KSMU
From left: Brenna Degrant and Erica Chandler. Partners for seven years, the two plan to get married in October.

As far as community support for LGBT persons, recent progress along this front has been “astounding,” says Brenna Degrant.

“You see a lot of people that used to believe that we were an abomination, a creation that was meant to be killed off, and now 30 percent of those people are believing completely different. And I think that’s a testament to how we’ve been visible; we’ve been able to change hearts and minds just by showing our love for each other.”

Degrant and her partner of seven years, Erica Chandler, will get married October 21. 

Degrant, Chandler and Healy were among the close to 100 supporters that gathered outside the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of the Ozarks, or GLO, Friday evening in north Springfield.

Ashley Quinn, board member for the LGBT advocacy group PROMO, read before the audience an excerpt of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion.

“It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgement of the court of appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed, it is so ordered,” Quinn read.

Quinn added that statewide non-discrimination protections are still needed for Missouri’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. In Springfield, those protections were passed by city council last year, but repealed by 51.4 percent of voters in April. 

Credit Scott Harvey / KSMU
From left: Kresta Stewart and Angie Brayfield were the first same-sex couple to apply for a marriage license in Greene County.

“There are couples today that are second-guessing getting married because they could be fired from their jobs or denied housing. There are people avoiding cameras right now for the same reasons. We should be able to celebrate openly and publically and so as a message to our state legislature we need to pass MONA (Missouri Non-discrimination Act) now.”

Passage of those protections is uncertain, reflected in part by the views of some of Missouri’s legislative leaders, who in statements Friday expressed concern with how the high court’s decision will impact the future of the state.

Senate Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said, “This decision has strong bearing on the ability of the citizens of our state to establish by public vote the social constructs under which they will live. In 2004, the citizens of our state voted overwhelmingly to put into the Missouri Constitution a definition of marriage that reflected the history and traditions of Western civilization for centuries.  Now, a handful of lawyers in Washington, D.C. have decided that they know better and that citizens are incapable of determining such important questions under their own state laws and constitutions.”

“We are deeply concerned about the ripple effects of this decision,” said Majority Floor Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin. “Will certain religious organizations and people of many different faiths now have to choose between violating their deeply held beliefs or risk being dragged into court? The Constitution of the United States which every member of the Supreme Court is sworn to uphold specifically reserves powers not explicitly given to the federal government to the individual states. Elections have consequences. We can have majorities in both Chambers, but until we get a president who will appoint Supreme Court Justices who will fight for states’ rights, we will be left with insufficient authority.”

At noon Friday, the Greene County Recorder of Deeds office was given the go ahead by the Recorders Association of Missouri to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Three hours later, Angie Brayfield and Kresta Stewart became the first to apply for a license.

By the close of office Friday, PROMO had tallied nearly a dozen recorders of deeds offices in southwest Missouri that had actively begun issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

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