Concerned citizens and ministers gathered again at Alabama’s state capitol last week, expressing their opposition to same-sex marriage and asking the governor to resist any attempts by activist judges to introduce it. Capital Hill Independent Baptist Ministries, the organizer of the event, told reporters he wants the state’s ban on the practice to stay in place and called for peaceful civil disobedience if any judge tried to overturn it. The protest went off well and attracted bigger crowds than an earlier one in the same location, but advocates of traditional family values could now be coming under attack on a new front.
Missouri is one of the states that so far has resisted pressure from homosexual lifestyle advocates and maintained its stance on marriage, but now its courts are facing a complicated challenge from a gay couple. Two St. Louis men, known only as M.S. and D.S., have a certificate issued in Iowa that proclaims them married. Nine months later their relationship collapsed, as many gay ones do, and now they’re looking for a divorce.
One of the men filed a divorce petition in St. Louis this January, citing irreconcilable differences. On the face of it the petition looked reasonable but the family court judge turned it down, citing the fact both petitioner and respondent were male. The court’s position is that it can’t grant a divorce for people who under Missouri law aren’t actually married, which is both reasonable and in the spirit of the state constitution. Unfortunately activists are now pushing to overturn this decision and, in the process, threatening traditional marriage in Missouri.
Lawyers for the men are arguing that Missouri’s ban on gay marriage is no obstacle to granting a divorce and that the step wouldn’t amount to a recognition of the practice. Attorney Drey A. Cooley argues that to dissolve the marriage Missouri doesn’t have to recognize it, just acknowledge that another state has. This looks reasonable on the surface and has precedent to back it up. In 2011 the supreme court in Wyoming, which also bans gay marriage, divorced a same-sex couple who had been married in Canada; the court argued that recognizing the marriage to the extent needed to end it didn’t affect Wyoming’s own policies.
Even limited recognition is a slippery slope though. By granting the divorce Missouri would open itself to claims that it had recognized gay marriage as a legitimate concept, and that might encourage activists to accuse the legislature of denying homosexuals a right that the state accepted and granted to normal couples. Cooley himself says that while the court could grant his client’s divorce on a narrow ruling he hopes they will take a “broader approach” – by which he means forcing gay marriage into Missouri law.
Proponents of gay marriage have gained a lot of experience in recent years, and are skilled in exploiting loopholes and creating precedents. Defenders of traditional marriage need to be increasingly vigilant to ensure that issues like this aren’t used to circumvent the law-making process.
The Missouri Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case within the next few weeks.