Missouri’s same-sex marriage ruling a step in the right direction

A day after midterm elections drastically altered the makeup of the national legislature, a substantial judicial decision hit Missouri: St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, adding to a wave of similar rulings nationwide.

Attorney general Chris Koster filed an appeal to the state Supreme Court but will not request a stay, allowing same-sex couples in Missouri to marry pending the appeal. A previous judicial decision in Missouri last month granted recognition to the marriages of same-sex couples legally wed in other states.

Both cases represent milestones for Missouri, a state with under 40 percent support for same-sex marriage, according to a 2012 survey by Public Policy Polling. The numbers have likely gone up since that most recent widely cited poll, but Missouri is still not regarded as any kind of leader on marriage equality.

These realities make the step of the circuit court to recognize the rights of same-sex couples here all the more significant. The ruling is an encouraging moment not only for St. Louis and the state at large but also for the Washington University community. The decision affects students, faculty, staff and administrators close to us and brings Missouri closer to being a welcoming environment.

As we await the appeal to Missouri’s Supreme Court and hope for the current decision to be upheld, calling attention to other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues is essential. While it may now (at least temporarily) be legal for same-sex couples to marry, employers in Missouri may still fire lesbian, gay and bisexual workers on the basis of their sexual orientation. Residents may be denied housing and other privileges due to sexuality as well. Such issues do not even account for gender identity, an area where both federal and state policy lag behind

The circuit court’s ruling should be cause for celebration among the University community. While marriage equality is only one component of a broader effort to bring dignity, protection and justice to LGBT individuals under the law, it is nonetheless of major magnitude both symbolically and practically.

We must now monitor the case as it progresses to the upper echelon of the Missouri judiciary and keep in mind the remaining barriers. The law does not suddenly change the hearts and minds of most Missourians, who may still discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The problems persist at the University itself; 20 incidents involving discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation or other identities were mentioned as occurring on the Danforth Campus in each of the quarterly reports released by Washington University’s own Bias Report and Support System.

Ideally, news of Missouri’s same-sex-marriage ban overturn will bring forward new discussion within our own groups and communities on campus about the meaning of the court’s ruling and what must be accomplished next.

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