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Government, Politics & Issues

Nixon orders local governments to allow same-sex marriage, while Brownback acts to curb them

Lilly Leyh, left, and Sadie Pierce wait to get their marriage license in November 2014 at the St. Louis recorder of deeds office.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio file photo

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has issued an executive order mandating that state and local agencies comply with the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriages.

That order is aimed at places like Schuyler County, where county Recorder of Deeds Linda Blessing says she’s exploring options on whether she has to comply with the court’s action or Nixon’s order.

A.J. Bockelman, executive director of PROMO – the state’s largest gay-rights organization – said that Blessing had told one of his group’s volunteers, “This is against my conscience. I will not issue a license.”

Bockelman added that there’s at least one gay couple in Schuyler who wants to get married, but they are waiting to see whether Blessing backs down. The couple does not want to go public, he said.

Nixon, a Democrat, announced his decision at a news conference in Kansas City, where he praised the Supreme Court.

“This landmark ruling was a historic step forward for our nation, and it has some very real benefits for families here in Missouri,” Nixon said. “As governor, I’m committed to protecting the rights of all Missourians, and that’s why this morning I am signing Executive Order 15-04 to ensure the Supreme Court’s ruling is implemented uniformly throughout state government.”

In neighboring Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback also signed an executive order. But the Republican governor’s action declares that religious liberty is guaranteed in the state and specifically gives clergy or religious groups the right to refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses or perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.

Brownback's order appears to also be in line with the Supreme Court, which exempted religious institutions from having to perform or recognize same-sex marriages.

Still, Bockelman called Nixon’s action “a clear contrast.”

Nixon’s order directs “all departments departments, agencies, boards and commissions in the executive branch to take all necessary measures to ensure compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision…”

The governor added that this new order replaces an earlier one, Executive Order 13-14, which “directed the Department of Revenue to accept the jointly filed state tax returns of same-sex couples who had been legally married in other states.”

The earlier order is no longer necessary if same-sex marriages are recognized in the state.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision tossed out Missouri’s 11-year-old same-sex marriage ban, approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2004.

Nixon calls for more protections for gay rights

Nixon also reaffirmed his support for the proposed “Missouri Nondiscrimination Act,” which would bar discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender individuals  in employment, housing and public accommodations. 

“Same-sex couples now have the right to get married, but here in Missouri, individuals can still be fired for being gay. That’s wrong, it’s not who we are – and it must change,” Nixon said.

Such a measure did pass the state Senate several years ago, but it’s unclear if or when Republican legislative leaders may consider bringing up the matter.

New House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, said during a recent appearance on St. Louis Public Radio’s Politically Speaking podcast that some legislators  are concerned about adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s anti-discrimination laws because of its “litigious nature” and the “potential for businesses to be exposed to liability.”

Nixon noted that he signed an executive order in 2010 barring discrimination based on sexual orientation in state government.

Software blamed for some delays

Schuyler is among at least two counties in Missouri that are still not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. A spokesperson for the Barry County recorder of deeds says the office is still waiting on the software to arrive that will allow them to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. 

PROMO says Maries County is also not issuing marriage licenses to same-sexcouples. But county Circuit Clerk Mark Buschmann blamed technical problems.

"First of all we are selling same sex marriage license in Maries Co. but have not had anyone apply yet," Buschmann wrote in an email. "But we have been telling the people that are calling in that we do not have the new license yet," but have ordered them. "Our supplier is overwhelmed with orders so we will get ours as soon as we can."

Meanwhile, Vernon County Recorder Doug Shupe said his office issued its first same-sex marriage license Monday after installing the updated software. Reynolds County Recorder Myra Turner says they have received and installed the software, but have not received any requests yet for same-sex marriage licenses.

Bockelman cites study statistics that estimate 11,000 same-sex couples in Missouri may seek to get married. 

“We are grateful for Gov. Nixon's leadership in recognizing the rights of LGBT Missourians and we look forward to working with him and his administration to fully implement marriage equality across the state,” he said. “The Supreme Court's landmark decision is a watershed moment for equality, but there is still much more work to do to.”

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