A federal judge in Kansas City ruled on Friday that Missouri’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution in a decision that would extend the right of gay couples to marry across Missouri. U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith found that the Missouri ban ran afoul of the Constitution’s guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law. But Smith delayed his ruling from going into effect immediately pending possible appeals. Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said the state would appeal. But officials in Jackson County, where the ban was challenged, began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Friday afternoon.
Smith’s ruling came one day after one of the nation’s regional federal appeals courts, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, upheld bans on gay marriage in four other states, setting up a possible review by the U.S. Supreme Court, which just last month declined a chance to take up the issue. Smith found that Missouri lacked a compelling state interest to limit marriage to one man and one woman. Smith was ruling on a challenge to the state ban brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri on behalf of couple Angela Curtis and Shannon McGinty and another same-sex couple in Jackson County, which includes most of Kansas City, Missouri.
The ruling came two days after a Missouri state court judge ruled the state ban unconstitutional and said same-sex couples in St. Louis must be granted marriage licenses. Koster appealed the state judge’s order to the Missouri Supreme Court, but did not ask for a stay in St. Louis. At least 10 same-sex couples had sought marriage licenses in the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County by midmorning on Thursday.
Same-sex marriage is legal in 32 states, plus the District of Columbia, up from 19 states since the U.S. Supreme Court in October declined to review U.S. appeals court rulings that struck down bans on same sex marriage in several states.