- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Missouri joined the growing list of states facing legal challenges to their gay marriage bans Wednesday, when the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit seeking to force it to recognize the out-of-state marriages of several same-sex couples.

ACLU of Missouri attorney Toney Rothert said current state law makes gay couples “legal strangers in their home state.” He spoke in St. Louis at one of four news conferences to announce the lawsuit, which was filed in state court in Kansas City.

At around the time ACLU lawyers were discussing their case in Missouri, a federal judge in Kentucky was issuing a ruling striking down part of that state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage and ordering Kentucky to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages. A Louisiana gay rights group also filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday seeking to force that state to recognize out-of-state gay marriages.Q

The Missouri lawsuit stops short of asking the courts to allow gay marriage in the state. Rothert said the ACLU has a “50-state strategy” to push for the legalization of same-sex marriage, but he declined to say if or when legal action will be taken seeking to force Missouri to do so.

Zuleyma Tang-Martinez, a longtime biology professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said she repeatedly has been denied benefits for her spouse, Arlene Zarembka, because the university abides by Missouri’s legal standard for marriage as being only possible between a man and woman. The couple has been together for 31 years and got married in Canada in 2005.

“It has been extremely painful for me and for Arlene that the state of Missouri and the university have responded to my request for benefits for Arlene with what is essentially a slap in the face,” Tang-Martinez said.

Janice Barrier and Sherie Schild, of St. Louis County, have been together for 33 years and married in Iowa in 2009. Both Barrier, 61, and Schild, 60, have battled cancer in recent years, and they worry about what the future holds if the state refuses to recognize their marriage.

“It’s so very important to us that we’re not torn apart at the very end of our lives,” Barrier said.

Missouri in 2004 became the first state to enact a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage. The measure was approved by 70 percent of voters, which gay marriage foes say shows strong opposition to expanding Missouri’s marriage rights.

“The people of Missouri have made clear that they cherish the institution of marriage, and strongly oppose efforts to weaken, redefine, or transform its nature and purpose,” Joe Ortwerth, executive director of the Missouri Family Policy Council, said in a statement. “We are optimistic that the Missouri Supreme Court will affirm U.S. Supreme Court precedent that states are constitutionally entitled to preserve the traditional family unit as the cornerstone of our civilization.”

Missouri’s Republican-led Legislature has shown no interest in changing the state’s policy of not recognizing same-sex marriages performed in one of the 17 states or in countries that allow them. State Rep. Kevin Engler, a Farmington Republican who sponsored the 2004 constitutional amendment, said recognizing a same-sex marriage performed elsewhere would circumvent the voters’ will.

“I was happy to sponsor the bill 10 years ago, and I’d be happy to sponsor any legislation that would continue to uphold it,” Engler said.

Gov. Jay Nixon drew criticism from gay marriage opponents in November when he directed the state Department of Revenue to accept joint tax returns from same-sex couple who are legally married in other states. The directive prompted a lawsuit filed by same-sex marriage opponents, and led a Republican lawmaker last week to file articles of impeachment against the Democratic governor.

The 2010 Census showed that Missouri had about 10,000 couples who listed their marital status as “committed,” said Ken Haller, board president of PROMO, a statewide civil rights group for the LGBT community. The Census did not break down how many of those couples were married.

The ACLU lawsuit contends that Missouri’s failure to recognize marriages from other states “undermines the couples’ ability to achieve their life goals and dreams, threatens their mutual economic stability, and denies them a dignity and status of immense import.” Rothert said he expects the case to eventually go to the Missouri Supreme Court, regardless of how lower courts rule.


Associated Press writer Chris Blank in Jefferson City contributed to this report.

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