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Missouri judge allows first same-sex divorce despite state ban on gay marriage

Dena and Samantha Latimer have become the first same-sex couple to legally divorce in Missouri in a landmark ruling despite that state’s ban on recognizing same-sex marriages
Boone County Courthouse
Photo by 13th Judicial Circuit of Missouri

A Boone County Missouri court has allowed lesbians Dena and Samantha Latimer to end their marriage in a legal first for the state.

The Latimers were married in Massachusetts in 2009 but the relationship broke down so they sought to divorce in their home state of Missouri.

Missourians voted overwhelmingly in favor of a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2004 which prohibits legal recognition of marriages between people of the same-sex in the state.

However Boone County Circuit Judge Leslie Schneider ruled that while not recognizing their marriage, Missouri did have to recognize the existence of the laws of other states.

For that reason she ruled that Missouri courts can recognize the law of where a marriage was performed ‘for the limited purpose of granting equitable relief.’

Judge Schneider noted that Missouri courts ad dealt with other cases involving marriages that were not legally valid in Missouri such as heterosexual marriages of people who had never sought to obtain marriage licenses.

In light of that Schneider ruled that ‘the court maintains an authority to enter judgment with respect to a marriage that is not legally recognized.’

Schneider also ruled that denying same-sex couples who had married in other states the ability to divorce was in breach of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution - which guarantees equal protection under the law.

Massachusetts law states that a couple must be living in the state to divorce there so the Latimers would have had to have relocated to Massachusetts in order to get a divorce there.

Missouri courts have previously annulled same-sex marriages performed elsewhere but this is the first time a same-sex couple has been allowed to divorce – ensuring a fair split of their assets and deciding any child custody issues.

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