KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A landmark Supreme Court ruling this morning throwing out portions of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act means a host of new rights and responsibilities for married gays and lesbians in the twelve states that currently allow same-sex marriage.
In Missouri and Kansas, it means far less.
“The court said that for purposes of federal we're going to recognize gay marriage, that really only applies if you live in a state where gay marriage is allowed,” said Lana Knedlik, an attorney and gay rights activist. “It doesn't really matter if you live in a state where gay marriage is not recognized.”
In both Kansas and Missouri, gay marriage is neither allowed in-state, nor recognized if performed elsewhere, the results of state constitutional amendments passed with broad support in both states in the mid 2000’s.
The Supreme Court Wednesday confirmed the supremacy of state laws governing marriages. With constitutions in both states not recognizing same-sex marriages, couples here will likely see no new benefits or responsibilities, at least in the near future.
“In Kansas and Missouri its sort of yet to be determined. Most likely your rights and obligations are the same today as they were yesterday,” Knedlik said.
Recognition would require a change in the states’ constitutions, an uphill battle in both states.
In Missouri, a simple majority in the legislature is all that is needed to get an amendment in front of voters, but the state’s 2004 ban passed with 70 percent support. Activists interviewed Wednesday conceded that although opinions on gay marriage are changing rapidly nationwide, it is unlikely the voters of Missouri have swung 20 percentage points in less than a decade.
In Kansas, perhaps the most socially conservative state in the union, gay rights activists would face a more difficult task. Only legislators can introduce a constitutional amendment, and it would take a supermajority and both houses to get a change to the voters.
With that in mind, activists and court-watchers said the Supreme Court may be the best bet for gay-rights activists who want to overturn the bans in the two states.
“I have a great decision written by Justice Kennedy that I can rely on for future decisions,” said Knedlik, referring to language from Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing the majority opinion, that some court analysts have said could be used as a catalyst for future court challenges.
Writing in the minority, Justice Antonin Scalia seemed to say he, too, felt more court challenges to state marriage laws were all but inevitable.
“As far as this court is concerned, no one should be fooled; it is just a matter of listening and waiting for the other shoe,” Scalia wrote.
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