Monday, June 29, 2015

St. Charles, Jefferson Counties Not Ready to Marry Same-Sex Couples Just Yet (UPDATED)

Posted By on Mon, Jun 29, 2015 at 7:00 AM

St. Louis City Hall has been handling same-sex marriages for some time now. St. Charles? Not so much. - PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • Photo by Sarah Fenske
  • St. Louis City Hall has been handling same-sex marriages for some time now. St. Charles? Not so much.

UPDATE: We heard from the ACLU of Missouri, which has been in touch with St. Charles County and believes the Recorder has made a commitment to start issuing licenses. Scroll to the bottom of the post for the latest.

Original post follows....

On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal nationwide, barring states from refusing to perform or recognize LGBT unions.

But two Missouri counties aren't ready to start processing same-sex marriage licenses just yet. Jefferson County said it wouldn't be ready to do so until July 6. And St. Charles County said it could need as much as a month.

"We are working with our software providers and form printers to align our systems for it, so we will begin no later than July 20," a clerk told Daily RFT on Friday.

When we asked how such a simple matter could possibly require that much time to implement, the clerk referred us to Recorder of Deeds Barb Hall. Hall has not responded to our voice mail message seeking comment.

A statement echoing the clerk's words appears on the Recorder's website:

The Office of the Recorder has always attempted to comply to the best of its ability with the laws governing marriage license applications in the State of Missouri. While we recognize that same-gender marriage has been a divisive issue, we respect the judicial process and today's decision from the U.S. Supreme Court.

In accordance with the ruling, and absent any petition for rehearing that may stay the ruling, our office is now preparing to issue marriage licenses to same-gender applicants by having our software provider and forms printers align our systems and documents with the Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell et al. v. Hodges et al. We anticipate all necessary preparations to be completed so we can begin no later than 20 July 2015.

Hall, a Republican, has been Recorder of Deeds for 28 years.

The activist group Promo Missouri, which has been tracking which counties in Missouri issue same-sex marriage licenses, first tipped off Daily RFT to the apparent processing difficulties in St. Charles and Jefferson counties. Know of any others that are turning same-sex couples away? Let us know in the comments.

UPDATED at 10:45 a.m. on Monday, June 29:

Anthony Rothert, the legal director of the ACLU of Missouri Foundation, says his organization got a call on Friday from people who'd been told the same thing as we were. The ACLU followed up by making a call of its own -- and was also told that St. Charles County might not be ready to move on same-sex licenses until July 20.

So Rothert fired off a letter. "Waiting until July 20, 2015 to follow the Constitution is not acceptable," the letter begins. "The twenty-five day period until formal judgment does not affect your obligation to start complying with the Constitution now." Existing forms, he wrote, could easily suffice for same-sex couples.

In the letter, Rothert threatened to "pursue other options" unless the Recorder told him by 4 p.m. that it would process such applications.

That, apparently, got someone's attention. County Counselor Harold A. Ellis wrote this in an email to Rothert with a 4:55 p.m. time stamp.

As you may know, Ms. Hall does not yet have new forms and computer programming tailored to issue licenses to same-sex as well as to opposite-sex couples. She is making efforts to obtain those new forms and programming. She anticipates having that work done by July 20.

In the interim, however, she can accept applications and issue licenses to qualified same-sex applicants. But the application forms will need to be amended as appropriate by same-sex couples when they come to her office to complete and sign them. New forms are not yet available.

So is St. Charles County processing same-sex marriage applications? The county's lawyer is telling the ACLU they're on it. Yet the Recorder's website seems to suggest no, and we have yet to hear back from Hall -- the last thing we've been told is that the office just can't handle them yet. The messages are mixed, to say the least.

"I thought their letter meant they'd issue licenses to anyone who requested them," Rothert says. "If they're not doing that, we'd like to hear from people."

He adds, "I don't know anyone who's been turned away. But we're ready to take action if that happens. This is a serious issue. People have been waiting a long time for this."

With reporting from Danny Wicentowski

We welcome tips and feedback. Contact the writer via email at sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com

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