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Gay couples marry in Kansas, despite legal fight

Gay couples across Kansas headed to county offices on Nov. 13 where judges granted marriage licenses and waived waiting periods after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for same-sex unions over the objections of the state’s attorney general.

Despite a legal tangle involving the state Supreme Court, gay partners moved ahead with wedding plans. One couple married in front of the courthouse in Manhattan, Kansas.

“We got it!” Joleen Hickman said as she held up her marriage license to cheers, The Manhattan Mercury reported.

She and Darci Bohnenblust, her partner of 19 years, said their vows before the Rev. Caela Simmons Wood declared that “by the power of your love, and in the presence of all the witnesses gathered here today, and perhaps most importantly for this moment as recognized by the state of Kansas, I now pronounce that you are legally married.”

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said this week that a separate lawsuit he has filed with the state Supreme Court should prevent gay marriage in all but the two counties that were home to cases covered in the ruling from the nation’s capital. But his office did not respond to questions Thursday as couples beyond Douglas and Sedgwick counties picked up marriage licenses.

Schmidt previously said it’s his duty to exhaust all options to uphold the state’s gay marriage ban, because voters overwhelmingly approved it in 2005.

Schmidt’s lawsuit came after dozens of gay couples in a large suburban county on the Missouri border received marriage licenses last month. One couple was married and about 70 others received licenses before the lawsuit resulted in an order for officials there to stop.

The Kansas Supreme Court issued a statement Thursday announcing that it will begin deliberating gay marriage Monday, but couples and their supporters weren’t waiting to see how that plays out.

Jackie Carter, pastor at First Metropolitan Community Church in Wichita, said a dozen couples applied for, or picked up, marriage licenses and plan to take part in a mass wedding Monday at Wichita’s old city courthouse. Dozens more indicated they would be there, she said, adding that she wouldn’t be surprised to see 100 to 150 people take part.

But as gay couples gained the right to marry in a handful of places, those in Johnson County – where the legal tangle came to a head after a U.S. Supreme Court decision Oct. 5 – were left to wait. Officials in that suburban Kansas City area said they would not move forward on the issue until the state Supreme Court ruled.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Kansas was closely watched for whether justices would change their practice following last week’s appellate ruling that upheld gay marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.

Those cases now are headed to the high court, meaning 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 federal appeals courts that had overturned gay marriage bans and several states moved to adopt the practice. Same-sex unions are now legal in 32 states.

“I didn’t think that I’d live long enough to see it happen in this state,” said LuAnn Lewis, who picked up a license to marry her partner of seven years, according to The Topeka Capital-Journal.

Jess Penn and Shanon Fletcher applied for a marriage license at the Lyon County Courthouse, which refused to issue them a license last month, The Emporia Gazette reported.

“The elected officials in this state are working hard to block this yet again,” Fletcher said. “But something that has held true my entire life is, `Love conquers all.’ And eventually it will conquer here. Love will prevail over hate.”

Uncertainty in Kansas as officials refuse to honor court orders on same-sex marriage

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.