Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
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By Phill Brooks
«RM75»«FC»«MDBO»COL138.PRB - Political Transformations«MDNM» «MDBO»and Gay Marriage«MDNM»
During my professional career, I have experienced two major political transformations that fundamentally changed our society.
Recent developments in Missouri make me wonder if we're experiencing a similar transformation today involving gay rights -- or, at least, gay marriages in Missouri.
The two political transformations in my time involved the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement.
I've been thinking about those two changes as I've watched the evolution of gay rights issues in Missouri during the past decade.
In 2004, Missouri voters approved by greater than a 70-percent margin a constitutional amendment to ban recognition of gay marriages.
The idea had been put on the ballot by the state legislature that gave it a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate.
Not one Republican voted against the proposal in either chamber. Even a majority of House and Senate Democrats voted for the gay-marriage ban.
Just two years later, the first openly lesbian is elected to Missouri's Senate -- Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City.
Then, less than three years after her election, Justus rode a bus to Iowa to get married to a female partner.
She had to go to Iowa because of that 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriages in the senator's state.
Yet, my reporters could not find a single Senate supporter of that amendment of just five years earlier who would criticize her marriage.
"Senator Justus is a fellow colleague, and we respect each other as senators, and this would have no affect on that," said Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, who had voted for the amendment.
Justus said she was "overwhelmed" with congratulations she received when she returned to the Senate.
Four years after her marriage, Justus was elected by her Democratic colleagues as the Senate's minority leader -- elected by a party caucus with two members who had voted for the gay marriage ban when they were House members.
That's not the end to this story.
In 2013, just nine years after voter adoption of the Missouri gay-marriage ban, Gov. Jay Nixon announced his support for legalizing gay marriage.
He made his endorsement at a news conference announcing an executive order that the state's Revenue Department accept jointly-filed state income tax returns by married gay couples who had filed joint federal returns.
To be honest, I had expected Nixon to walk around the issue without taking a position when I asked the question.
Nixon, after all, has a reputation for parsing his words and carefully avoiding politically dangerous positions.
So, his answer suggested to me the possibility of a change in Missouri's political environment.
Some attacked Nixon's decision, but a resolution to impeach the governor for the order allowing joint returns by gay couples did not even get a vote in the House committee.
This month, a state circuit judge has ruled Missouri government has no right to refuse to recognize gay marriages issued in other states.
Three days later, the state's attorney general, Chris Koster, announced he would not appeal that decision.
Then, a few days later, the state's health care plan for government workers announced it will provide coverage for the gay-marriage partners of government workers with marriages from other states.
What a change from 2004.
I do not want to leave the impression that this issue is settled.
There remain very strong views in the legislature about the sanctity of male-female marriages. Republican legislative leaders quickly issued statements strongly attacking Koster for his no-appeal decision.
But it struck me that neither the House nor the Senate leadership statement attacked gay marriages.
Instead the statements raised legalistic arguments about the attorney general's obligations to defend the state Constitution and the decision of Missouri voters.
So, while this issue may not be resolved, I do sense that in the words of Bob Dylan, "The times, they are a-changing."
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.]
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