KANSAS CITY, Mo. (CN) - Eight same-sex couples Wednesday challenged Missouri's refusal to recognize marriages solemnized in other states.
Lead plaintiffs Janice Barrier and Sherie Schild sued Kansas City, Gov. Jeremiah Nixon, Attorney General Chris Koster and Department of Health and Senior Services Director Gail Vasterling, in Jackson County Court.
It is the first such lawsuit in Missouri, though similar complaints have been filed around the country.
The couples were married in states that recognize same-sex marriages, then moved to Missouri. They seek declaratory judgment that Missouri's refusal to accept valid marriages from other states violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the Constitution.
They also seek injunctive relief requiring the state to recognize their marriages.
At issue is a 2004 state constitutional amendment passed by state voters that defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman.
Anthony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri, said the amendment violates the couples' fundamental right to marry as well as equal protection regarding their sexual orientation and sex that are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
"I don't think that when the voters passed this amendment that they fully understood and intended the affect this would have on these couples," Rothert told Courthouse News.
Rothert said the issues for these couples range from being able to provide medical coverage for a seriously ill spouse to Social Security benefits to simple common rights.
The lead couple have both dealt with cancer. Since their marriage is not recognized in Missouri, Barrier couldn't take spousal medical leave and had to accept a demotion to care for Schild. And since they cannot be on the same medical insurance, they have gone through their life savings paying for medical care.
Another couple - Lisa Layton-Brinker and JoDe Layton-Brinker - have three children. Lisa is a firefighter and JoDe is concerned that if something happens to Lisa in the line of duty their family will not be cared for since she is unable to receive spousal benefits.
Another couple - Zuleyma Tang-Martinez and Arlene Zarembka - are unable to apply for spousal Social Security benefits, which are based on the laws of the state they live in.
The lawsuit compares the issue of gay marriage with laws that prohibited inter-racial marriages.
Rothert said that the complaint could have been filed in federal court, but he felt that a state court is the more proper venue.
"We thought that this is a Missouri issue and Missouri should deal with it," Rothert told Courthouse News.
No matter what the decision, Rothert expects the matter to end up in the Missouri Supreme Court. He hopes the matter will be resolved within a year.
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