Metro Weekly

Missouri lawmakers refuse to remove defunct language banning gay marriage from state law

Sponsor of bill revising statutes says no one on joint committee even suggested repealing same-sex marriage ban.

Missouri State Capitol building – Photo: Visitjeffersoncity, via Wikimedia.

Missouri lawmakers have refused to remove now-defunct language barring same-sex marriages from state law, even though same-sex couples are allowed to wed.

Each year, state lawmakers pass legislation to remove language from outdated statutes, as part of cleaning up the state’s laws and ensuring they are still relevant and up-to-date.

But lawmakers in the Republican-run State House of Representatives balked at removing the state’s  statutory ban on same-sex marriage, which was overturned by the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that legalized marriage equality nationwide.

Missouri also has a defunct ban on same-sex marriage within the constitution, but that would require voters to approve an amendment stripping that prohibition away. The state also has a 2001 law, approved by the legislature, that refuses to recognize same-sex marriages performed lawfully in other jurisdictions.

During debate in the House, Rep. Tracy McCreery (D-St. Louis) proposed an amendment to repeal the statutory bans on same-sex marriage or out-of-state marriages to the House’s bill revising various statutes, reports the Columbia Missourian.

“I want Missouri to be a place where people can live and work and go to school and love whoever they want to love,” McCreery said during the floor debate. “I think that by striking this antiquated language it sends a message that the legislature is trying to make Missouri a more welcoming place.”

But McCreery’s amendment was rejected on technical grounds. The sponsor of the revision bill, Rep. Dan Shaul (R-Imperial), said that revision bills cannot be amended on the floor, and that the Joint Committee on Legislative Research had already determined what statutes to repeal, revise or strike. He argued that, had lawmakers on the joint committee wanted to repeal the marriage ban, they should have brought it up in committee and asked for a vote.

“There are members on the committee that could have asked it to be added,” Shaul told the Missourian. “It wasn’t even defeated — it wasn’t even asked to be put on by the committee.”

See also: Virginia House repeals constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage

But, adopting Shaul’s reasoning, that means that if a majority of members of the joint committee simply had an ideological or religious bias against homosexuality or same-sex marriage, any proposal to eliminate the ban could have been defeated — resulting in the same outcome. It also means that, for practical purposes — at least as long as Republicans remain in charge of the legislature — the ban is unlikely to be removed any time soon. 

Shaul insisted that marriage equality proponents could have just as easily introduced a separate bill specifically dealing with the marriage statute, even though that bill would also likely have been defeated.

“Rather than rely on a committee, why don’t they just file the bill?” he asked.

But McCreery said there wasn’t any point in introducing a separate bill, claiming that such legislation wouldn’t even have been granted a hearing and would have been sent to a committee on the last day of session, effectively killing it. As such, she argues, the best way to come close to receiving a vote on the issue is to offer floor amendments to other bills, in order to circumvent Republican-controlled committees that are all but certain to reject any bill expanding or recognizing LGBTQ rights.

“The reason I keep trying is because I think every year that goes by, more and more of my colleagues realize that Missouri does not want to have the reputation of being a state where people can’t get married to the people they love,” she said.

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