- Views & Opinions
Same-sex couples in Kansas are eager to say “I do” in the exchange of wedding vows, but Kansas officials — from the state level to the local level — are saying we won’t to legal rulings to issue marriage licenses.
A U.S. Supreme Court decision late on Nov. 12 cleared the way for same-sex marriages in Kansas, but the court clerk in the most populous county won’t grant licenses to gay couples until a separate legal case is resolved before the state’s highest court.
And Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s determination to defend the state’s gay-marriage ban remains a roadblock to same-sex weddings. He has the backing of ultra-right Gov. Sam Brownback, a fellow Republican who pledged to work with Schmidt to preserve a provision in the state constitution against gay marriage that was approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2005.
The U.S. Supreme Court denied a request from Kansas to prevent gay and lesbian couples from marrying while the state fights the issue in court. Schmidt said that decision applies only in Douglas, a northeastern Kansas county, and Sedgwick, in south-central Kansas, where the court clerks are defendants. The American Civil Liberties Union contends the ruling applies in all 105 counties.
The legal situation in Kansas is complicated by another case before the Kansas Supreme Court, which Schmidt filed last month. He persuaded the Kansas court to block marriage licenses for same-sex couples, at least while his case is heard.
Marriage licenses in Kansas are issued by district court clerks’ offices after a mandatory three-day wait. In Johnson County, Court Clerk Sandra McCurdy said about 70 applications from same-sex couples are pending.
“Until I hear something from the Kansas Supreme Court, I’m not issuing any marriage licenses,” McCurdy said.
Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond, Virginia, law professor, said other clerks are likely to react the same way “out of an abundance of caution.”
The U.S. Supreme Court order was consistent with its handling of requests from other states seeking to preserve their bans while they appealed lower-court rulings favoring gays and lesbians.
However, Kansas’ emergency appeal was closely watched to see whether the court would change its practice following last week’s appellate ruling that upheld anti-gay marriage laws in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. Those cases now are headed to the Supreme Court, and the gay marriage issue nationwide could be heard and decided by late June.
The U.S. Supreme Court last month declined to hear cases from three appeals courts that had overturned gay marriage bans. Kansas, South Carolina and Montana all have refused to allow gay couples to obtain marriages licenses despite rulings from federal appeals courts that oversee them.
Gay marriage is legal in 32 other states.
Schmidt filed his case with the Kansas Supreme Court after the chief judge in Johnson County responded to last month’s U.S. Supreme Court action by ordering licenses to be issued to same-sex couples. A lesbian couple received one and quickly wed, becoming the only known same-sex Kansas couple to do so.