On Feb. 6, 2014, United States District Judge Gary A. Fenner declared unconstitutional Missouri’s statutory requirement that marriage license applicants appear in person before the Recorder of Deeds.
The court ruled that the “fundamental right to marry is protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment” and that the statutory requirement “significantly interferes with the exercise of a fundamental right.” The statute was declared unconstitutional as applied to persons who are physically unable to appear before the recorder of deeds.
Three plaintiffs – Julia Amos, Wendy Downing, and Lesisha Hendrix – were unable to obtain marriage licenses because they are engaged to individuals who are incarcerated. The Moniteau County Recorder of Deeds refused to issue marriage licenses unless both prospective spouses appeared at her office in person.
“Missouri’s law makes it impossible for people in jail to get married—depriving them of a fundamental constitutional right,” said Tony Rothert, legal director for the ACLU of Missouri (ACLU-MO). “The government should be in the business of encouraging and supporting committed relationships, not preventing couples from being married.”
The statute has previously been found unconstitutional in ACLU-MO cases, but many recorders of deeds refuse to abide by those rulings.
“Our constitution requires that fundamental rights, like the right to marry, be made available to all citizens,” said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU-MO. “The ACLU will continue to advocate for fair marriage laws in Missouri.”