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 at a City Hall ceremony.
A judge denied Koster's request Thursday for a temporary restraining order against the gay marriages, but city officials said they won't issue any more marriage licenses to gay couples — at least until state or federal courts further resolve several pending challenges.
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.
"Cities are strengthened by their families. I want St. Louis to be the sort of diverse and open place in which all families, gay and straight, choose to live, be creative and build businesses," Slay said. "I can't think of anything more beautiful. I can't think of anything more right."
A spokeswoman for Kansas City's mayor says he would take actions similar to that of his St. Louis counterpart — if the city's charter allowed it.
Joni Wickham, spokeswoman for Mayor Sly James, says the city's council-manager form of government prevents James from making unilateral decisions on gay marriage. Slay, on the other hand, heads a strong mayor form of government and has the authority to take actions like those Thursday.
Officials in Springfield and Columbia say they have seen no signs of similar decisions by their municipal leaders.
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 couples — six men and two women — were married Wednesday night in Slay's office in a ceremony presided over by a municipal judge as well as a rabbi and priest. The couples joined Slay and other city officials at a Thursday morning press conference to discuss the move.
"Being recognized as a married couple is so amazing," said John Durnell, 63, who has been with his partner Richard Eaton, 75, for nearly four decades.
Tod Martin said his marriage to David Gray formalizes a 22-year relationship that began soon after both moved to the city after attending Vanderbilt University
"We've seen ourselves as an old married couple for quite some time," said Martin, deputy chief of staff for Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill. "(The city) helped make that actually a reality last night."
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," said Slay, who has three gay siblings, including a brother who got married in New York because he couldn't in St. Louis.