K.C. Council Votes for Marriage Recognition and Benefits Extension

The City Council of Kansas City, Mo., is moving forward to affirm all legal marriages, unanimously voting Dec. 11 to extend city pension benefits to married same-sex couples.
On Dec. 5, the city’s Law Department filed a motion with Jackson County Circuit Judge J. Dale Youngs that opposed the efforts of leaders in the Missouri General Assembly to appeal Youngs’ Oct. 3 ruling that Missouri must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed outside the state. On Dec. 9, Youngs denied the legislators’ request to intervene, freeing Kansas City to recognize all legal marriages and extend benefits to spouses. The city has offered other benefits, such as health insurance, to domestic partners since 2004.
In addition, according to showmemarriage.com, county employees in 111 Missouri counties that participate in the County Employees’ Retirement Fund (CERF) who are legally married are entitled to retirement benefits.
These signs of progress lead to some reflection. Back in the summer of 2004, many of us were filled with equal parts cynicism and hopefulness – taken aback by the strident anti-LGBT messages we were hearing from some of our neighbors and worried about the silence of others. We stood in Mill Creek Park holding “No on 2” signs, hoping our fellow citizens would do the right thing and decline approval of an anti-gay ballot measure on the primary ballot. Alas, most Missourians who voted that Aug. 3 decided to allow discrimination to become part of the state’s constitution.
Ironically, it was the document’s Bill of Rights section (Article 1, Section 33) that was amended, adding this sentence: “That to be valid and recognized in this state, a marriage shall exist only between a man and a woman.”
Voters in Kansas followed suit, approving their own amendment April 5, 2005. These amendments were part of a discriminatory wave that swept across the nation, with dozens of states passing bans on same-sex marriage in the first part of the century.
After the amendments, lesbian and gay couples existed and persisted as de jure second-class citizens. Thankfully, some of us lived in cities that affirmed our humanity, but there was much work to do. Activists, advocates, attorneys and allies did that work, and the tide began to turn. Heartache and recrimination gave way to acceptance and co-existence. And almost precisely one decade after that devastating day in August, same-gender-partnered Missourians began to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Properly recounting the court cases, legislation and initiatives that caused marriage bans to fall across the country would take the patience and training of a legal scholar. By itself, Missouri’s story is pretty complicated, but here are three central cases.
• The first deals with whether Missouri should recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages. Youngs’ Oct. 3 decision in Barrier v. Vasterling stated that Missouri must recognize legal same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said he would not appeal the ruling.
• The second is about St. Louis issuing marriage licenses to four same-sex couples in June before stopping at Koster’s request because of the state’s same-sex marriage ban. On Nov. 5, St. Louis City Circuit Court Judge Rex. M Burlison ruled in State of Missouri v. Jennifer Florida that the ban was unconstitutional. The case has been appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, but Koster did not request a stay.
• The third case is about the constitutionality of Missouri’s same-sex marriage ban. On Nov. 7, in Lawson v. Jackson County Department of Recorder of Deeds, U.S. District Court Judge Ortrie D. Smith also ruled that Missouri’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Jackson County declined to appeal the ruling, but it is stayed pending the outcome of an appeal by the state to the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
Thanks to PROMO, Show Me Marriage, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Missouri and Freedom to Marry for all their hard work in helping to secure the fundamental right to marry in Missouri. Thanks also to our brave friends and their families for challenging the law. And thank you to Jackson County and the City of Kansas City for standing up for equality.

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