JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri — Within hours of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision Friday to legalize gay marriage — upending Missouri's constitutional ban on the practice — same-sex couples in the state applied and were granted marriage licenses.
The decision marks a sweeping end to the constitutional amendment enacted in 2004 to ban the practice, which was approved by about 70 percent of voters at the time. The state was the first to adopt a constitutional ban following a decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court permitting gay marriage.
Despite that history, state and local leaders moved swiftly to ensure Missouri complied with the high court's decision. The Supreme Court gave the losing side roughly three weeks to ask for a rehearing, but University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor David Achtenberg said it's unlikely the justices will change their minds.
Attorney General Chris Koster on Friday dropped appeals of two cases fighting the state's ban on gay marriage, eliminating legal questions and further clearing the path for marriages for same-sex couples. Gov. Jay Nixon also pledged to take "all necessary and appropriate actions" to ensure the ruling is implemented in Missouri.
"No one should be discriminated against because of who they are or who they love," Nixon said in a statement.
Some Republican lawmakers decried the ruling. Springfield Republican Rep. Sonya Anderson said the decision "should be left in the hands of the states and the people."
"This decision stands in stark contrast to the will of the people of Missouri, who overwhelmingly support the traditional definition of marriage that is enshrined in our state Constitution," Anderson said in a statement.
While Jan Jones — the president of an association of officials charged with issuing marriage licenses — said the issue might make some officials "uncomfortable," she directed all counties to comply quickly with the decision.
Recorders' Association of Missouri President Jones said some might experience technical delays because some software counties use might not have options for marrying two men or two women. But she hasn't heard of any county recorders deciding to wait until the decision is final.
Some same-sex couples received marriage licenses within hours.
Laura Zinszer, 58, and her partner of about 20 years, Angela Boyle, 52, of Columbia, were watching online when the decision came down and were overwhelmed.
"We were crying," Boyle said. "We were ecstatic. We were just out of this world."
They immediately rushed to the Boone County Recorder of Deed's Office, where they had submitted their marriage application a year ago. The office had placed it on hold while the courts battled the legality of same-sex marriage, and after attorneys reviewed the Supreme Court decision, they quickly received a license. Three out-of-town children surprised them and announced plans to fly in over the weekend so they, along with a child who lives in Columbia, can attend the couple's wedding Monday.
"I am a little numb," Zinszer said. "We are really emotional about this. For me, I've been holding my breath hoping that this would be a positive outcome, but there were no guarantees."
Boone County Recorder of Deeds Nora Dietzel said the office phone "blew up once the ruling came through." She said she has friends who will be affected, and she's excited to be directly involved.
During a news conference at the American Civil Liberties Union office in St. Louis, ACLU attorney Tony Rothert said the ruling is clear, so county recorders of deeds and clerks must issue marriage licenses immediately.
Otherwise, he said, the ACLU will sue.
"Denying someone a marriage license today is a violation of the law," Rothert said.
Ballentine reported from Jefferson City, Hollingsworth reported from Kansas City, Missouri and Salter reported from St. Louis.