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Mayor Slay Marries Four Same-Sex Couples At City Hall

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Last updated 3:59 p.m.

Mayor Francis Slay issued marriage licenses to four same-sex couples Wednesday night, in a direct challenge to Missouri's ban on such unions. 

"St. Louis is a city that doesn’t tolerate discrimination," Mayor Francis Slay said in a statement. "We are sending a message on what’s right, and I can’t think of anything more right than this."

"As state court after state court has deemed barring couples to marry under the law unconstitutional, it is time to make a stand," said Recorder of Deeds Sharon Carpenter, whose office issues marriage licenses. "It is time to show that the people of St. Louis support equality and will fight for it. This is not a decision I have made lightly, but it is a right that must be defended. St. Louis stands with those who stand for love."

Carpenter later tweeted a video of the Beatles performing "All You Need is Love" with the hash tag #ShowMeMarriage.

During a press conference on Thursday morning, Slay said the move was not only “a matter of fairness” — but a way to make the city attractive to the most amount of people.

“Cities are strengthened by their families. I want St. Louis to be the sort of diverse and open place in which families — gay and straight — choose to live, be creative and build businesses,” Slay said. “This is a human rights issue. This is a quality of life issue. This is an economic issue.”

Carpenter and Slay won quick praise from A.J. Bockelman, the executive director of the gay rights advocacy group PROMO.

"The courageous people today stand on the right side of history together to say it is time to ‘Show Me Marriage,’ and I am personally and professionally grateful for their stance," Bockelman said. "They swore an oath to uphold not just the Missouri Constitution, but also the United States Constitution."

The Couples 

  • Richard Eaton and John Durnell

The four couples are all from St. Louis. The first to receive a license, Richard Eaton and John Durnell, have been together for 39 years. 
Watch a video documenting the experience of Eaton and Durnell, released by the company Rue De La Vie:

  • Tod Martin and David Gray
Credit (Jason Rosenbaum/St. Louis Public Radio)
Tod Martin (left) and David Gray.

Tod Martin, who is U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill's deputy chief of staff, said it was “incredible” and “amazing” to get married to David Gray.

Martin and Gray, who have been in a relationship since 1991, had been to plenty of marriages of their straight friends and family over the years. But Martin said it wasn’t until yesterday that they "realized what they were feeling.”

"It’s really an incredible feeling to stand in front of people — your friends, family, loved ones — make those vows and build this marriage and actually make it a legal,” Martin said.

Gray added, "Somehow that makes a difference. It’s official. It means something.”

  • Karen "Mimo" Davis and Miranda Duschack
Credit (Jason Rosenbaum/St. Louis Public Radio)
Karen "Mimo" Davis (left) and Miranda Duschack.

Karen "Mimo" Davis said yesterday “wasn’t about making history.” Rather, it was about “carrying the torch” for “my previous brothers and sisters” who have fought and died for gay rights.

“I just carry their torch,” said Davis, who married Miranda Duschack Wednesday. “I’m not a history maker. I’m not a trailblazer. I am walking the trail that they already created. I want to wake up every morning and know that I had an opportunity to step up and take that torch that I did so."

  • Bruce Yampolsky and Terry Garrett 
Credit (Jason Rosenbaum/St. Louis Public Radio)
Bruce Yampolsky (at podium) and Terry Garrett.

Bruce Yampolsky and Terry Garrett are both St. Louis natives and military veterans, committed to each other for 30 years. 

Yampolsky was the first openly-gay elected official in the city of St. Louis, formerly serving as the 28th Ward Democratic Committeeman.

“We are so happy and so pleased that love has taken us to this point in our lives," Yampolsky said. "We were honored to be married last evening. We have new friends and family here...We’re glad to part of history. But love is what it’s all about."

Planning, And The Legal Response

In an appearance on "St. Louis on the Air," Slay's chief of staff Jeff Rainford said even though the marriages took place over the course of an evening, Slay had been thinking and planning for the event "for about a year and a half."

In fact, PROMO helped coordinate Wednesday evening's event. On "St. Louis on the Air," Richard Eaton and John Durnell said they were approached several months ago by PROMO to be among the couples married.

Listen to the full "St. Louis on the Air" segment with Rainford, Eaton and Durnell, and Tony Rothert, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri:

Thursday morning, the State of Missouri sought a temporary restraining order in response to the marriages - but that attemptwas denied. City officials said they have no plans to marry additional couples.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster later issued a statement on the matter, separating his personal views of marriage equality from his duty to uphold state laws:

"While I personally support the goal of marriage equality, my duty as Attorney General is to defend the laws of the state of Missouri. While many people in Missouri have changed their minds regarding marriage equality, Missourians have yet to change their constitution. "Cases currently pending in Jefferson City and Kansas City regarding the constitutionality of Missouri's ban against same-sex marriage will be decided in the coming months. Regardless of my personal support for marriage equality, such vital questions cannot be decided by local county officials acting in contravention of state law. "Therefore, I have asked the St. Louis Circuit Court to prevent the St. Louis City Recorder of Deeds from issuing such marriage licenses until this matter can be resolved by our state's judiciary. This question will likely be fully answered by our Missouri courts within the next 12-18 months."

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Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.
Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.