The Status of Marriage in Kansas and Missouri After Ruling

Just before the June 26 marriage equality decision (Obergefell v. Hodges) by the U.S. Supreme Court of the United States, online maps were available that showed which states allowed and/or recognized same-sex marriage and which ones did not. On those maps, the situation in Missouri and Kansas was often characterized as complicated. Even in a post-Obergefell world, the situation could use some clarification. Thankfully, we have groups like PROMO and Equality Kansas to provide advocacy and clarity.
With the variety of state marriage laws in place before Obergefell and what seemed like a new court ruling each day, navigating the particulars of same-sex matrimony was challenging for a while. Voters had passed constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage in both Missouri (2004) and Kansas (2005). In the decade since, attitudes had changed and many came to believe that those bans violated the U.S. Constitution. Case law and new statutes also piled up in favor of marriage equality over that time period.
In 2014, PROMO participated in three lawsuits that helped bring marriage equality to Missouri, and as a result – while waiting for a decision in Obergefell – Missourians could marry in other states and expect recognition once they returned to the Show-Me State. Jackson County, St. Louis City and St. Louis County were also issuing marriage licenses in the interim.
After decisions by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit became binding precedent in Kansas, the state should have had marriage equality statewide in late 2014. But some counties refused to issue marriage licenses, and litigation followed. At the behest of Gov. Sam Brownback, state agencies in Kansas were still uncooperative with things such as joint income tax filings and name changes on driver’s licenses. In February 2015, Brownback rescinded a 2007 executive order issued by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius that had protected state workers from discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity.
In April 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges. The 5-4 pro-marriage equality decision came on June 26, the anniversary of U.S. v. Windsor and Lawrence v. Texas, two other LGBT rights cases.
By early July, all Missouri and Kansas counties were complying with Obergefell. In Laclede County, Missouri, Judges Larry Winfrey and Steve Jackson refused to marry any couples at all, rather than abiding by Supreme Court’s ruling. Dent County, Missouri, voted to lower its flag to half-staff on the 26th of each month, but soon thought better of that action.
Brownback issued a “religious objection” executive order on July 7. It claims to protect clergy from being forced to officiate same-sex marriages -- a scenario that was never a possibility in the first place – and it attempts to shield religious organizations from litigation if they deny taxpayer-funded services to LGBT Kansans. Kansas sometimes contracts with religious groups to provide various social services. Also on that date, Kansas confirmed the ability of same-sex couples to update driver’s licenses, apply for health insurance (on spousal state employee health insurance) and adopt children as lawfully wedded couples.
By contrast, in Missouri, Gov. Jay Nixon issued a July 7 executive order directing Missouri state agencies to comply with Obergefell. He also voiced support for a nondiscrimination law to protect LGBT Missourians.
LGBT residents of Kansas and Missouri owe a debt to Equality Kansas ( and PROMO ( for their work on LGBT rights issues. Anyone who encounters any resistance to compliance with Obergefell at the state or municipal levels should report it to one of these groups.
When asked what he foresees as a response to Obergefell in Missouri, PROMO executive director A.J. Bockelman said, “What I anticipate seeing next will be more religious liberty legislation going into next session.”
Both Missouri and Kansas have part-time legislatures that operate actively only through the first part of the year. Neither has been particularly pro-LGBT in its lawmaking. This year, Kansas spent an inordinate amount of time working on budget issues.
Although LGBT people now have the affirmed right to marry whom they love, many live in areas where they can be discriminated against and fired or denied equal access to housing and public accommodation. Two important developments on that topic:
In a mid-July opinion, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said that the ban on sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. A similar opinion regarding gender identity was issued in 2012. It’s not clear whether courts will agree with the EEOC on these matters.
Dozens of sponsors and co-sponsors introduced the Equality Act into Congress on July 23. The bill explicitly protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in matters of employment, housing, access to public places, federal funding, credit, education and jury service.
Until LGBT citizens are protected from discrimination at all levels, PROMO and Equality Kansas will be working for your rights. Sign up for updates to see how you can help pass nondiscrimination legislation in your state.
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