Gay Marriage Ban Overturned in Missouri

By Daniel Bodden

This past summer, Angela Curtis and Shannon McGinty became personally involved in the lawsuit that would challenge Missouri’s ban on same sex marriage. They applied for a marriage license in June and were quickly denied, setting the foundation for the case. They joined with Kyle Lawson and Evan Dahlgreen in the challenge filed by the ACLU on behalf of the two couples. Before getting involved, Angela had to weigh the potential consequences of being involved in such a public and controversial case.

“It wasn’t an easy decision, but it wasn’t a difficult one. I don’t know if that makes any sense,” Angela said. “I wanted to make sure all three of [my children] were ok with the publicity of it. All three werePAGE 7-8real quite supportive. I do have clients, and there’s always the risk that you’re going to disenfranchise some people, but I thought it was more of a priority for us to step up and try to make a difference rather than worry about what everybody else thinks.”

As the lawsuit made its way through the courts, Angela and the others continued their daily routines. Life as usual resumed. And then, on Nov. 7, the decision came. U.S. District Court Judge Ortrie Smith struck down Missouri’s constitutional ban on same sex marriages.

“We found out from our lawyer that morning,” Angela said. “We were really surprised. I had no real timeline of what to expect, whether this was going to take a year or multiple years or months or weeks. It was 5-6 months from start to end, which seems pretty quick in the legal system. We were happy that there was some closure and we felt great about it.”

Angela’s journey to legalize gay marriage in Missouri started out in an unlikely place — a straight marriage. In 2003, she was 40 years old, married to her husband and had three children ages 3, 10, and 14. At that point, she made the difficult decision to come out as gay to her traditional family.

“[My husband] was surprised. And confused,” Angela said. “He pretty quickly was very supportive in the best way that he could be. He knew first, and he sat and held my hand while we told our kids. He wanted to show support for me for them. He’s a great guy, still one of my best friends. He’s, you know, my second phone call, and we’re still pretty close. He’s been very supportive under the circumstances.”

That same year, Angela met Shannon McGinty, her current partner and fiancee. Although they discussed the possibility of same sex marriage in Missouri, at that point, it was only a daydream.

“When marriage was not a possibility, when it was not even in the realm of what could happen, which was when Shannon and I got together, that wasn’t even anything that you talked about or dreamt about,” Angela said. “I remember we had a conversation and we thought that maybe there could be legalization in the U.S. or here in Missouri in maybe 20, 25 years. It wasn’t even anything that was on your mind, because it wasn’t anything that you thought you could have in the near future.”

After 10 years of dating, same sex marriage was looking to be a more viable option in Missouri. In June 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same sex couples when it struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in its United States v. Windsor decision. In the wake of this ruling, many state courts began overturning constitutional bans on same sex marriage. This progress made Angela more optimistic about the potential of marriage equality coming to Missouri. She proposed to Shannon in November 2013.

“I think once Windsor was ruled positive, I think at that point in time, I thought ‘Well, this is just a matter of time,’” Angela said. “That’s why I proposed. It was going to be a lot sooner than Shannon and I ever anticipated at the beginning of our relationship. We were betting over the last couple years that Missouri would be one of the final states.”

As of press time, this ruling has been appealed by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, but Jackson County officials have been issuing marriage licenses as if the ruling is in force. Angela and Shannon, however are not rushing to the altar just yet. Their goal has always been to not only get married in their home state, but also to have a large wedding with their friends and family present.

“We both decided we were not interested in rushing things just to be married, to go to Iowa or Minnesota or some of the other states at that time,” Angela said. “We decided we wanted to hold our ground and get married in the state we live in with a ceremony with our family and our friends here, instead of us rushing up to Iowa. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, it just wasn’t for us. Now, we’re starting the process of trying to find venues and things for a wedding.”

What was once a distant thought has now become a reality for Angela. Sitting in her classes at her all-girls Catholic high school in 1981, she never would have expected to be where she is today.

“I don’t think that anybody I went to school with was openly out, myself included,” Angela said. “The main difference I see [in high school] now is a lot of courageous men and women who in grade school or high school or college are raising their hand and being authentic and being who they are. That’s the biggest change that I see, which I think has really been one of the many variables that has moved society as whole to be accepting of gay people. I’ve always felt for 10-11 years since I came out, that the best thing we can do to make our cause seen and heard is for everybody that feels safe to do so is to come out. My experience is that if somebody knows you and knows that you’re gay and they like you or love you, then it’s hard to be hateful. When I was in high school, I bet there would have been a lot of people, parents, grandparents, that would say, ‘You know what, I don’t even know any gay people’ and it’s often times the unknown that makes you nervous. Over the past few decades, one by one, people standing up from people in the media, on TV, celebrities to sports figures to our neighbors and people you work with, acknowledging and not being ashamed of who they are, I think that has made the biggest difference over the years. When I was in high school, there was no gay alliances, there was no peace flag, there was nobody on TV to watch and say, ‘I’m like that person, and I see myself in that person.’ It was pretty hidden, which made it difficult to step up and say, ‘This is me.’ because at the time you felt very alone in doing so. So, I didn’t. But, slowly, I got my courage and realized some things are more important, and being who you are and not being afraid of what other people might think is really important.”