Missouri Supreme Court Says Lower Courts Can Consider Same-Sex Divorce Cases

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that a St. Louis County Circuit Court judge should not have dismissed a request to divorce a same-sex couple. The state High Court stopped short of deciding on the broader issue of whether judges can grant divorces to gay and lesbian couples.
The case now returns to the St. Louis judge to reconsider the request from the man, who married his male partner in Iowa. It remains unclear whether same-sex unions can be dissolved in the midst of ongoing appeals of separate rulings that overturned Missouri’s 2004 constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
At issue is the December 2012 marriage and August 2013 separation of a man identified in court documents as M.S., and his partner, identified as D.S. “Ultimately,” Drey Cooley, M.S.’ attorney, said Tuesday. “The case is just about two people seeking a divorce.”
A judge had denied M.S.’s petition for a divorce last January saying he lacked jurisdiction because of bans on same-sex marriages in state statutes and the Missouri Constitution. It was appealed to the state high court; because the state was not a party in the divorce case, there was no attorney to defend the constitutional provision.
“The only appropriate thing for the court to do is to make a ruling to dismiss the case based on the fact that there is nothing valid here to invalidate,” said Kerry Messer, head of the Missouri Family Network, which opposes same-sex marriage.
But Supreme Court judges said in an opinion issued Tuesday that Missouri judges do have jurisdiction and, if nothing else, could deny requests for same-sex divorce.
The state Supreme Court's unanimous opinion could result in another court battle over whether Missouri same-sex couples can be divorced in a state that prohibits such marriages, except in its two largest Metropolitan areas.
  • An October 3, 2014 decision by a Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Dale Youngs said Missouri must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, and Attorney General Chris Koster did not appeal.
  • A month later, a state judge in a St. Louis and a federal judge in Kansas City both declared state’s ban unconstitutional. While appeals are pending before the state Supreme Court and the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, same-sex marriage licenses are being issues in St. Louis City, County and Jackson County, Missouri.
Equality advocates point to October's ruling on out-of-state gay marriages as a likely sign that M.S. and D.S. will be granted a divorce.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to take up same-sex marriages this Spring.