The director of a leading Missouri gay rights group says same-sex marriage will probably come to the state within a year.
A.J. Bockelman, director of PROMO, made the prediction in an email to supporters Friday. He also said it is possible a sexual orientation and gender identity non-discrimination act will become law within a year as well.
"It is entirely possible — indeed it's quite probable — that within the next year, we could see both nondiscrimination and marriage won on behalf of the LGBT community in Missouri," Bockelman wrote. "As incredible as that may seem, and after working in this capacity for over seven years now, I couldn't be happier (and even a little bit eager, to be honest) to see that bright light at the end of a very long tunnel."
Samuel Lee is the director of Campaign Life Missouri, an anti-abortion group and a frequent presence at the Missouri capitol as well as a Catholic deacon. Lee declined on Friday to predict whether gay marriage will be legal within a year.
But Lee predicted lawmakers will at some point take action on so-called "conscience protection" legislation that aims to allow businesses with religious objections to gay marriage to opt out of performing services for gay weddings.
"It wouldn't surprise me in the least if some lawmaker introduced legislation next year to provide conscience protection," Lee said.
Lee said if gay marriage becomes legal in Missouri it would only hasten efforts to pass such a law.
How exactly gay marriage could be legalized in Missouri remains an open question. But only two realistic scenarios exist:
1) The courts will legalize it
Last month, a handful of gay marriage licenses were issued in St. Louis in a directly challenge of the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage. And earlier this year, the ACLU sued the state, seeking Missouri recognition of legal gay marriages performed in other states.
Action in the ACLU suit could come as early as this fall.
Missouri voters approved a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in 2004 with 71 percent in favor. At the time, passage of the ban was the first time voters anywhere in the nation had weighed in on the marriage question since Massachusetts became the first state in the country to legalize gay marriage.
Other states' marriage bans have not fared well in court, however.
On Friday, a federal appeals court said Oklahoma must allow same-sex couples to marry. The court upheld previous rulings striking down its ban.
The 2-1 ruling came after the same panel ruled June 25 that Utah's ban on same-sex marriage violates the Constitution. It was the first time an appellate court determined last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act means states cannot deny gays the ability to wed.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel put its Oklahoma and Utah rulings on hold pending an appeal. Utah's attorney general has said he plans to appeal to the Supreme Court.
2) Missouri voters will overturn the ban
After St. Louis decided to violate the state's ban and instigate a court challenge, Republican lawmakers decried efforts to overturn the ban through the judicial process. They say the people, who approved the ban, should decide whether to take it away.
House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, has called St. Louis' decision to issue some gay marriage licenses "irresponsible."
"As government employees, they took vows to uphold our constitution and follow our laws without prejudice. It is alarming that they think it is appropriate to willingly violate the Missouri Constitution to send a political message," Jones said.
Overturning the ban would require sending a constitutional amendment deleting the current language to voters. That can happen in two ways: the General Assembly can vote to send the amendment to voters or an initiative petition can put the amendment on the ballot.
The heavily-conservative General Assembly is unlikely to approve sending an amendment overturning the ban to voters.
In order to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot, an initiative petition would have to be signed by at least 8 percent of voters in each of two-thirds of the state's congressional districts — likely requiring more than a 100,000 signatures.
by Jonathan Shorman, July 19, 2014