What DOMA means for Missouri

Jun 26, 2013

The Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA Wedensday. It’s  a provision of a federal law that denies federal benefits to married gay couples.

For the states that have legalized gay marriage (12 of them, and the District of Columbia), it’s clear what the impact of this decision will be for same-sex couples in those states.  Their spouses will now be entitled to the same federal benefits as straight couples, which was not the case in the past. But the result is murkier in the other 38 states where gay marriage is not legally protected (like in Missouri).

Even two constitutional law professors are still trying to sort out what it means, practically, for same-sex couples in Missouri.

Greg Magarian is a constitutional law professor at Washington University in St. Louis. He says the decision will have little impact on Missouri’s same-sex marriage ban. He says states make laws about marriage, such as the legal age for marriage and legal benefits. That’s not the territory of the federal government.      

“So you could sort of read the court’s decision today as saying, man Congress, you really went off the reservation to sort of make this sweeping judgment about same-sex marriage. Whereas we might think if a state did a similar thing, the state’s more within its prerogatives and within its ordinary turf to do that,” Magarian said. “As a matter of law and as a matter of some of the rhetoric in the case, they’re saying Missouri, you do what you want to do, Illinois you do what you want to do.”

But it gets confusing when same-sex couples move. Magarian says his understanding is that a same-sex couple who was legally married in another state can file their federal income taxes jointly, but must file their Missouri income taxes as unmarried individuals. So at the federal level, Missourians could get the same benefits as heterosexual married couples, like survivor benefits under a federal pension and jointly filing federal income taxes. But not at the state level.

Dr. Kevin Pybas teaches Constitutional Law in Missouri State University’s Department of Political Science. He’s also an attorney.

He points out there was a provision in DOMA dealing with the “Full Faith and Credit Clause” of the Constitution. Generally, that obligates one state to recognize the legality of acts of another state.  But another clause in DOMA, he says, makes an exception for same-sex marriage…and justices didn’t address that clause in Wednesday’s opinion.

“So, in some ways, it’s anyone’s guess what this decision means for this,” Pybus said.

What people in Missouri are saying about the ruling

Missouri gay rights activists say today is undeniably a historic day. But they still have work to do in the state.

A.J. Bockelman, the executive director of PROMO, said the dual Supreme Court rulings mean that justice has been served for same-sex couples who got married in the 13 states and the District of Columbia where it’s legal.

But in Missouri, he says his group and others are fighting for something more basic.

“You can be fired from your job if you’re gay, you can be denied an apartment if you’re lesbian, and too often, transgendered individuals are denied access to services.”

Meantime, opponents of same-sex marriage say a U-S Supreme Court ruling does not change the immorality of such an arrangement.

In a video statement, the communications director for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Katie Pesha says the decisions do not alter the church’s definition of marriage.

“While the law can allow other things to be called marriage, it cannot make them into the kind of union that is marriage.”

Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler says she believes the Supreme Court made the wrong decision. She says that the next step for Missouri is to wait for guidance from the federal government.

“So to see kind of how it settles out, and what the issues and the concerns are and what legally can be done to still promote the ideal of the a marriage being between a man and a woman,” Hartzler said.

She says that she was pleased that U-S Supreme Court did not create a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

In her own statement, Republican Congresswoman Ann Wagner said she believed in the “sanctity of traditional marriage,” and applauded Missouri voters for defining it as between a man and a woman.