ST. LOUIS — Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said Thursday that he personally supports gay marriage but will defend a state constitutional ban against it after St. Louis officials issued marriage licenses to four same-sex couples.
A judge denied Koster's request Thursday for a temporary restraining order against the gay marriages, but city officials said they won't issue additional marriage licenses to gay couples at this time.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said the four gay-marriage licenses were issued with the intent of triggering a legal test of Missouri's constitutional prohibition adopted by voters a decade ago. The licenses were issued on the same day that a U.S. appeals court panel in Denver ruled that states cannot prevent gay couples from marrying.
Koster, a Democrat who is running for governor in 2016, said it is his responsibility to defend Missouri's laws and that local officials should not be taking actions in conflict with those 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," Koster said in a written statement. "While many people in Missouri have changed their minds regarding marriage equality, Missourians have yet to change their constitution."
The four same-sex couples were married Wednesday in the office of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay in a ceremony presided over by a municipal judge.
Slay told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that city officials issued the marriage licenses "to force this issue and to get the law settled" on whether Missouri's gay marriage ban is legal.
"If we weren't doing this, no other city in Missouri would," Slay said.
While denying a temporary restraining order, St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison noted that St. Louis officials have agreed not to issue more marriage licenses to same-sex couples at this time and would do so in the future only after notifying the court and attorney general's office. The judge is to hear arguments at a later date on whether to grant an injunction against the same-sex marriages.
Missouri voters in 2004 approved a state constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman — the first such measure enacted nationally after the Massachusetts Supreme Court permitted gay marriage in that state. The Missouri ballot measure passed with 70 percent of the vote.
Since then, there has been no effort by Republican legislative leaders to reconsider the gay marriage ban. But Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon said in February that it should be put to another vote, and that he would support repealing it.
Nixon's comments came after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in February seeking to force Missouri to recognize the out-of-state marriages of several same-sex couples.
Last year, Nixon announced that Missouri would accept joint income tax returns from legally married gay couples, mirroring a new policy by the federal Internal Revenue Service.
That prompted a lawsuit from representatives of Baptist and family policy organizations asserting that Nixon's policy violates Missouri's constitutional provision recognizing only marriages between men and women. A judge denied a temporary restraining order in April against Nixon's policy but the case is still pending in Cole County Circuit Court.
Lieb reported from Jefferson City, Missouri.