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Eight gay couples suing Missouri over its ban on same-sex marriage

By Doug Moore, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Feb. 11--Eight gay couples are suing the state of Missouri over its 10-year-old constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

The ACLU of Missouri, on behalf of the couples, is expected to file the suit in state court in Kansas City Wednesday.

All eight of the couples were wed in states or a country where same-sex marriage is legally recognized.

The expected legal action comes as similar battles are under way across the country. And it follows an executive order that Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon issued three months ago telling the state Department of Revenue to accept gay couples' joint state returns if they file joint federal returns.

The civil rights organization is planning press conferences in St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield and Jefferson City Wednesday to announce the legal action.

Two of the plaintiffs are LeRoy Fitzwater and Alan Ziegler, who moved to the St. Louis area in November, from California.

They were married in California in 2008. That state is one of 17 that recognizes same-sex marriages.

"It's important that with the protections derived from marriage, we get those in the state we live and work," said Fitzwater, 43.

The lawsuit will be the first of its kind in Missouri, said A.J. Bockelman, executive director of PROMO, a statewide lobbying group for gay rights.

But it follows at least 50 other similar suits across the country where gay couples are fighting to get their relationships legally recognized.

An ACLU spokesman said no one from the organization would talk about the lawsuit until Wednesday at the various press conferences.

Greg Magarian, a law professor at Washington University, said filing it in state court appears to be a good strategy.

"Opponents can't say federal courts are meddling in state affairs," Magarian said.

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And going through the court system will be an easier route than trying to get the state's conservative legislators in Jefferson City to put it before voters, he said.

In a statewide referendum in August 2004, 71 percent of voters favored changing the constitution to expressly state that marriage is between one man and one woman.

Conservative Missouri lawmakers say Nixon willfully disregarded the voter measure when he allowed gay couples to file joint tax returns.

Last week, eight Republican state representatives led by Nick Marshall of Parkville filed articles of impeachment against Nixon, accusing the governor of a "willful neglect of duty and misconduct."

The sponsors of the bill admit it will likely go nowhere, but say it sends a message to Nixon that he is out of step with the rest of the state.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated part of the Defense of Marriage, declaring that gay couples married in states where it is legal must receive the same federal benefits that heterosexual couples receive. Another ruling issued the same day paved the way for California to resume recognizing same-sex marriages.

Nixon said that he made his ruling because state tax law is linked to federal tax law. He stopped short of saying he supported same-sex marriage.

When the ban in Missouri was approved in 2004, only one state -- Massachusetts -- recognized same sex marriage. Within a decade, 16 more along with the District of Columbia have followed suit, including Iowa in 2009. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn in December signed legislation recognizing the unions. The law takes effect June 1.

Although the move to legalize gay marriage across the U.S. is moving at a fast clip, it has met with resistance.

In December, a federal court ruled that Utah's ban on same-sex marriage violated the U.S. Constitution. But opponents got a stay allowing the state to appeal the ruling.

Those filing suit to have their marriages recognized in Missouri say it is simply an issue of dismantling discrimination.

Janice Barrier and Sherie Schild of Olivette have been together for 33 years, married in May 2009 in Iowa.

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When Schild, 60, got sick with cancer several years ago, she was unable to go onto Barrier's health insurance because the two were not recognized as legally married. As a result, the couple went through their life savings to pay for medical bills.

When Schild was in the hospital with pneumonia in the early 1990s, Barrier, 61, was asked by a nurse to leave when visiting hours ended. When Barrier relented, security was called and escorted her out.

The couple say they would like to live in a state that allows them guaranteed hospital visits, and assurances that they will be able to have unlimited access if one of them ends up in a nursing home.

"I love Janice, love her as much as the first day I set eyes on her," Schild said. "We've been caring for one another for 33 years. When we got married in Iowa, it was the happiest day of my life. I knew when we came back it would not be recognized.

"But I'm very hopeful we will see that change come soon."


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