DOMA Decision’s Impact On Missouri

Jun 26, 2013

A constitutional law professor at Washington University in St. Louis says the US Supreme Court’s decision on Wednesday that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act will have little impact on Missouri’s same-sex marriage ban.

Greg Magarian said the decision means married gay couples can receive federal benefits, but it does nothing to change their status according to the Missouri state government.

“It has a lot of rhetoric in it about the states are supposed to be able to make decisions about domestic relations and marriage,” Magarian said. “The federal government was wrong to impose DOMA uniformly on all the states. As a matter of law and as a matter of some of the rhetoric in the case, they’re saying Missouri, you do what you want to do, Illinois you do what you want to do.”

Of practical concern, Magarian says that means a same-sex couple who was legally married in another state can file their federal income taxes jointly, but must file their Missouri income taxes as unmarried individuals.

The DOMA decision could affect a pending case in the Missouri high court.

In that case, Kelly Glossip is fighting to receive survivor’s benefits after his gay partner of 15 years, a corporal in the Missouri Highway Patrol, was killed in the line of duty. American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri legal director Tony Rothert says the DOMA decision could have a persuasive impact.

“It’s very likely that the Missouri Supreme Court is going to be looking at today’s decision for guidance on how to handle the case in front of them,” Rothert said.

Rothert said the DOMA decision has no direct impact on that Missouri law, but it provides guidance on how future lawsuits that challenge such laws will be handled in the future.

Magarian said states make laws about marriage, such as the legal age for marriage and legal benefits. That’s not the territory of the federal government.

“So you could sort of read the court’s decision today as saying, man Congress, you really went off the reservation to sort of make this sweeping judgement about same-sex marriage,” Magarian said. “Whereas we might think if a state did a similar thing, the state’s more within its prerogatives and within its ordinary turf to do that.”

Magarian said the US decision will give same-sex couple in Missouri who legally married in another state the same federal benefits of heterosexual married couples, like survivor benefits under a federal pension and jointly filing federal income taxes.