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Court Fight Over Recognizing Same-Sex Marriages Begins Thursday

Janice Barrier (left) and her wife Sheri Schild were one of the 10 couples who sued the state to have their marriage recognize in Missouri.
Rachel Lippmann I St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 5:30 p.m. to reflect the correct number of couples involved in the suit.

Ten same-sex couples from Missouri will head to court in Kansas City on Thursday for the first day of a case seeking recognition of their marriages.  

The couples, including five from St. Louis, have valid marriage licenses from other states, but aren't considered married in Missouri because the state constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman. The lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri challenges that amendment on the grounds that it denies the legal benefits of marriage solely on the basis of sex and sexual orientation.

The ACLU is arguing that Judge James Youngs doesn't need a trial to determine that the law is on the side of the ten couples. The state of Missouri is asking Youngs to dismiss the case entirely.

A lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of two same-sex couples who were denied Missouri marriage licenses in Jackson County was moved to federal court in August. But Jeffrey Mittman, the ACLU's executive director, said the organization made a deliberate choice to seek recognition for out-of-state marriages in state court.

"Marriages are performed here in Missouri, and we believe that our Supreme Court is the best arbiter for what Missouri should and should not do, and for what is constitutional and fair here in Missouri," Mittman said.

Mittman added that while the judiciary was designed to be independent, he hopes recent federal rulings will make a difference in this state case.

"Where judge after judge looks at the legal arguments and all come down in the same way, which is, as Americans we treat everyone fairly, we do not discriminate against people and exclude them from our government and civil society, I think that’s certainly what we call persuasive," he said.

The attorney general’s office, which is defending the state, does not comment on pending litigation.

Multiple Legal Challenges

The lawsuit in court tomorrow is one of four legal cases surrounding same-sex relationships in the state of Missouri. The ACLU is also representing the couples who were denied a license in Jackson County in their federal case.

In addition, the ACLU has intervened in a lawsuit against Gov. Jay Nixon's executive orderallowing same-sex couples who were legally married elsewhere to file joint state tax returns if they were filing jointly at the federal level.

Mittman said the ACLU is not involved in a lawsuit  filed by the state of Missouri challenging the marriage licenses issued to four same-sex couples married by Mayor Francis Slay in June.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.