Tag Archives: Kansas

Democrats working to expand U.S. Senate map into red states

Following a recruiting success in Indiana, Democrats are eyeing Kansas as they try to expand their playing field into red states and take back the Senate.

GOP Sen. Jerry Moran is up for re-election in Kansas, Republican-friendly territory that’s on few lists of competitive races this year. Thus far his opponents are little-known, but Democrats are considering a Kansas businessman, Greg Orman, who ran for Senate two years ago as an independent, to see if he might make another try this year, according to one Democratic official with knowledge of the deliberations.

Orman challenged longtime GOP Sen. Pat Roberts in 2014 and ran a more competitive race than expected, although Roberts ultimately won. Orman could get on the ballot as an independent by filing petition signatures by Aug. 2.

Orman did not return phone and email messages seeking comment. The Democrat who discussed his potential candidacy did so on condition of anonymity ahead of an official decision.

The focus on Kansas follows developments in Indiana, where Democrats were applauding news that former Sen. Evan Bayh is looking to make a comeback.

Bayh’s candidacy would instantly create a competitive race in Indiana, where incumbent GOP Sen. Dan Coats is retiring and the Republican candidate to replace him, Rep. Todd Young, can’t match Bayh’s name ID or fundraising.

The developments in both states stand as the latest examples of Democratic attempts to mount competitive races on Republican-friendly terrain, as they try to capitalize on turmoil around Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy.

“It’s going to be good for the country, good for Indiana to have him back,” Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said Monday of Bayh, adding that Trump “speaks for the Republicans” and creates opportunities for Democrats to compete around the country.

Top tier, 2nd tier, 3rd tier

In addition to top-tier races in politically divided or Democratic-friendly states including Illinois, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, Democrats have been promoting a second and third tier of Senate candidates in GOP-leaning states including Arkansas, Missouri, North Carolina and Iowa. None is favored to win, but all give Republicans something they need to pay attention to in a year when Democrats are on offense nationwide.

Democrats need to net four or five seats to win back Senate control — four if they hang onto the White House and can send the vice president to break ties in the Senate; five if they don’t. With a handful of competitive races around the country, one seat can make all the difference.

In the game of chess that Democrats and Republicans play, even if Democrats’ favored candidates don’t end up winning in places like Indiana or Kansas, forcing Republicans to spend money in states they’d considered safe is its own victory.

“We’re seeing that more are tipping into play, maybe not winners, but in play,” said Michael Meehan, a longtime Democratic consultant, pointing to North Carolina, where GOP Sen. Richard Burr is defending his seat, and Arizona, where Sen. John McCain is up for re-election. Both are states where Hispanic voters angered by Trump’s rhetoric on immigration could create problems for GOP incumbents.

But Republican campaign officials disputed the notion the Democrats would be able to compete successfully in red states. They noted they scored their own coup last month, when they convinced Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a former presidential candidate, to abandon his retirement plans and announce he would seek re-election.

 

Bracing for the return of ‘Summer of Mercy’ anti-abortion protests

Twenty-five years after tumultuous mass protests led to nearly 2,700 arrests outside local abortion clinics, Wichita is bracing for a Summer of Mercy.

The Wichita Police Department has spent months putting together a 60-page operational plan that aims at ensuring that everyone is safe.

“I don’t think that we are anticipating an event like 1991,” said Police Capt. Brian White. “However, we have to be prepared for all possibilities and we want to ensure protesters have the ability to exercise their rights to protest, and we also want to make sure that we balance that with the legal right for the businesses to operate.”

The return of the Summer of Mercy, slated for July 16-23, is being organized by Operation Save America, a Dallas-based Christian fundamentalist group led by Rusty Thomas. Group leaders say they hope to complete in 2016 what activists started in 1991.

About 100 to 150 police officers have been assigned to the protests.

“While we have had good lines of communications with protesters, we have to be prepared for the unexpected and that is what we are doing,” White said.

Donna Lippoldt of Operation Save America’s Wichita affiliate did not immediately return a message seeking comment. Pastor Rob Rotola, whose Word of Life Church is hosting the Summer of Mercy, also did not return a call from the Associated Press.

Abortion provider George Tiller and the clinic where he performed abortions had been a target for decades. His clinic was bombed in 1985 and Tiller was shot in both arms in 1992. He was murdred in 2009 at his Wichita church by an abortion opponent. For years afterward, no abortion services were available. Then, in April 2013, the group Trust Women opened the South Wind Women’s Center in Tiller’s former facility.

Director Julie Burkhart said the clinic plans to stay open during this year’s protest, but a decision was made not to do any counter protesting.

“It is a new approach,” Burkhart said. “That our work is here inside and it is out talking to people who would like to have meaningful conversations in the community and not standing out basically wasting energy on folks that will never be able to understand that sometimes some people need or want to access abortion care.”

Instead, abortion rights supporters put together other events, including a rally and reception as part of what they’ve dubbed the #ShowSomeMercy Celebration.

Kansas cut taxes to stimulate economy, now in record debt

Gov. Sam Brownback and legislative leaders on Wednesday authorized a record $900 million in temporary borrowing to cover the state’s expenses through June 2017.

The State Finance Council, which is led by the Republican governor, voted 8-1 to loan the state’s main bank account the money from other, idle funds.

The move, known as a certificate of indebtedness, is one the state has used repeatedly to cover bills when cash is expected to run low. It’s similar to when a family borrows from a savings account or college fund to cover monthly bills because its checking account is temporarily short of funds between paychecks.

The only dissenting vote Wednesday was from Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, who believes the state is in a recession.

“This isn’t the way I manage my finances. This isn’t the way I manage the finances of my business. This is like me putting groceries on a charge card and praying that the money comes in,” Wagle said. “And now we’re being asked to cover our operation expenses on a certificate of debt and it’s not going stop unless you increase taxes or cut spending.”

The vote came after Budget Director Shawn Sullivan told the council the state is considering sweeping as much as $16 million from the Kansas Department of Transportation and up to $45 million from a Medicaid fee fund to balance the budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. An additional $3 million can be taken from the Kansas Department of Corrections and it is possible the state would delay part of its June payments to school districts until July, Sullivan said.

The state is likely to have between $5 million and $15 million in the general fund to begin the next fiscal year, he said.

The council’s action and Sullivan’s disclosures came a day before legislators convened a special session on school funding. The state Supreme Court ruled last month that the education finance system remains unfair to poor school districts and GOP lawmakers are working on a $38 million plan to comply.

Kansas has struggled to balance its budget since Republican legislators slashed personal income taxes at Brownback’s urging in 2012 and 2013 in an effort to stimulate the economy. While even some GOP lawmakers have acknowledged that the tax cuts didn’t work as anticipated, the governor and his top aides blames the state’s ongoing fiscal problems on regional slumps in agriculture, energy production and aircraft manufacturing. The state’s tax collections have fallen short of expectations 10 of the past 12 months.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, criticized Brownback for refusing to reverse the tax cuts to respond to the financial problems.

“When is it we’re going to admit that what is happening in this state is wrong? We are in a downward spiral when it comes to the fiscal management of this state and we have to correct our house. We’ve got to get our fiscal affairs in order at some point,” Hensley said.

Brownback, who stressed his evangelical Christian beliefs in running for governor, is the most unpopular one in the nation, with only a 26 percent approval rating and a 65 percent disapproval rating.

Wisconsin puppy mill breeders exposed in new report

How much is that doggie in the window, the one with the waggly tail? The cost — measured in suffering — is high if a puppy mill supplied the dog to the store.

The Humane Society of the United States in May issued The Horrible Hundred: Puppy Mills Exposed, with a state-by-state breakdown. It is not a comprehensive list of bad breeders, but rather an annual report that offers a sampling of the problems in the breeding industry.

In Wisconsin, this means it’s likely there are more puppy mills than the four identified in the report.

“There are approximately 10,000 puppy mills in the U.S. and they exist in every state,” said Melissa Tedrowe, Wisconsin state director for The Humane Society of the United States. “Although Wisconsin is not one of the top five puppy mill states, it still has a significant number. And for every one that The Humane Society of the United States is aware of, there may be twice as many that are operating in the shadows, unlicensed and unreported.”

Canines for commerce

A puppy mill is a dog-breeding business in which the physical, psychological, and/or behavioral needs of the dogs are neglected due to inadequate housing, shelter, staffing, nutrition, socialization, sanitation, exercise, veterinary care and inappropriate breeding.

The Humane Society compiled The Horrible Hundred report from inspections by federal and state agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

The report reveals widespread problems in the U.S. puppy breeding industry, as well as gaps in laws and enforcement.

Missouri and Kansas continue to shelter the greatest number of problem dealers for the third year in a row — 23 in Missouri and 16 in Kansas, followed by Nebraska at 14, Iowa at 11 and Arkansas at seven.

Partly as a result of greater public scrutiny and stronger laws, nearly two dozen problem breeders identified in 2012 and 2013 closed down.

Still, puppy mills continue to be relicensed year after year in the United States. Many dogs in these facilities are inbred and overbred, receive minimal veterinary care, poor quality food and water and little socialization and exercise.

Repeat offenders

Among the Wisconsin breeders exposed in The Horrible Hundred, John Zeiset, operator of Lone Pine Kennels in Thorpe, is classified as a repeat offender in the report.

Last June, a USDA inspector found a Cavalier King Charles spaniel at Lone Pine Kennels in Clark County with an “open and discharging laceration on the bottom of its neck,” which appeared to be caused by an embedded chain collar. The gash was untreated.

In December 2014, a state inspector found at the kennel excessive feces, unsafe conditions and more dogs in need of veterinary care, including an underweight 15-week-old Maltese puppy with one eye “completely sealed shut from dried mucus.”

In New Holstein, federal and state inspectors repeatedly cited Brooknook Puppies, operated by Herman Gingerich, for issues related to unsanitary and unsafe conditions. USDA inspectors reported excessive cobwebs, debris and rodent droppings, excessive piles of feces and excessive temperatures. State inspectors noted similar problems. The most recent state report, dated December 2014, indicated improvements but feces remained an issue, as well as a lack of adequate grooming at the Calumet County facility.

The report identified two other problem breeders in Wisconsin: Mose Bontrager in Hillsboro, and Alvin and Esther Nolt in Thorp.

In a February inspection, officials determined Bontrager’s kennel in Vernon County had not been cleaned for a week, apparently because the owner left town. The inspector noted “lice nits in the fur of several dogs,” matted dogs, dogs with fur “dirtied with excrement due to unsanitary conditions,” a dog with nails so overgrown the animal could not properly walk and a “significant and unacceptable accumulation of excrement in whelping enclosures.”

The inspector also observed a Siberian husky with three puppies kept in an outdoor enclosure with only a cracked igloo-type shelter and other puppies housed in a corncrib, with no other protection.

The report said Bontrager was selling puppies wholesale without the required USDA license.

At the Nolts’ facility in Clark County, federal and state inspectors repeatedly found problems with sanitation and animal care, according to The Horrible Hundred. Last November, a state inspector noted piles of feces, dogs without adequate protection from the cold, puppies with their feet falling through holes in wire flooring and several dogs in need of veterinary treatment. One dog later was euthanized due to “several tumor-like growths” near the ear, along with a wound that was open and bleeding. In March, a USDA inspector said the kennel was now compliant.

Several animal welfare watchdogs contacted WiG to report the four breeders in Wisconsin are Amish, and that conditions at their facilities were indicative of how the Amish treat animals, as resources rather than pets.

Lisa Williams, founder of a Florida-based rescue program, worked as an investigator for a national animal rights group. “I investigated three puppy mills, two of them Amish,” she said. “Depending on how many dogs they have, they can make around $100,000 per year just by selling puppies. I went to a farm with over 400 dogs in two small barns. They think nothing of keeping them in small wire cages and never letting them out for their entire lives. Trucks come to the farms in the night and pick up puppies to move to pet stores. I watched them do that. It broke my heart.”

Tedrowe said, “No one should neglect the proper care of their animals, Amish or otherwise. There is no excuse for animal cruelty. That being said, The HSUS has found puppy mills with dreadful conditions operated by people of all creeds. We really need to place the focus on the conditions that animals are living in, not the lifestyle of the owners.”

Efforts to reach the Wisconsin breeders were unsuccessful as of WiG’s deadline on May 20.

Meanwhile, some animal welfare advocates responding to The Humane Society report said more must be done to close the mills.

“We’ve accomplished a lot in the past five or six years, but we must do more. We can always improve,” said activist and dog-rescuer Monette Barrett of Milwaukee.

Law and enforcement

Legislation signed in 2009 by Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle went into effect in mid-2011 and set minimum standards of daily and veterinary care for dogs and established a licensing program for breeders and sellers that annually market more than 25 dogs from more than three litters and prohibited the sale of puppies less than 7 weeks old unless sold with their mothers. The law provides for an inspection process and requires that certificates of veterinary inspection or health certificates accompany dogs sold or adopted for a fee. The inspectors evaluate the general care of animals, conditions of indoor and outdoor enclosures, transportation of dogs, animals’ ages, record keeping and health certificates.

The Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection website says the intent of the law “is to protect the welfare of dogs and to protect consumers who buy or adopt them.”

Act 90, dubbed “The Puppy Mill Bill” as it moved through the Legislature, passed with unanimous support in both chambers. Doyle’s signature on the measure was hailed as a milestone. Before passage, Wisconsin was one of the few states with no regulation of dog sellers or shelter operators. The federal Animal Welfare Act also requires minimum standards.

“But the standards are just that — minimal survival standards,” said Tedrowe.

In the first year, the DATCP inspected 339 breeders, dealers and sellers and reported that 289 earned a state license. Concerns resulted in 35 facilities receiving conditional licenses. The state denied three applications and other cases involved facilities that either went out of business or reduced the number of dogs sold to less than 25 per year.

On the first anniversary of the law, Yvonne Bellay, animal programs leader for DATCP’s animal health division, said, “We’ve taken a great first step this year toward protecting the welfare of dogs in Wisconsin.”

Still, animal welfare advocates want more protections for future pets, specifically tools enabling the rapid removal of dogs from unsafe and unsanitary conditions and putting repeat offenders out of business.

But they also stress the important role consumers play in either propping up puppy mill operations or closing them down: Puppy mill operators breed dogs for the money, not the love of breeding dogs.

“It isn’t easy for the USDA or the state Department of Agriculture to simply shut down a breeder just because they had some violations,” Tedrowe said. “Often they have to go to court in these cases, which can be a costly and lengthy process. That’s why the public really has to take part of the responsibility.”

Consumer watchdogs

Animal welfare advocates caution people against purchasing a puppy from a pet store or over the Internet, because the dogs commonly come from puppy mills. And the only way for potential buyers to know if they are purchasing from responsible breeders is to visit breeders in person and see how and where their puppy was raised, according to The HSUS.

“If every person who purchased a puppy took the time to visit the breeder and ensure that the dogs are living in good conditions, puppy mills would cease to exist,” Tedrowe said. 

In Wisconsin, people should be wary of purchasing a dog:

• If they are denied access to where animals are sheltered

• If the seller cannot provide a certificate and details about health care

• If the animal is being sold on the Internet

• If a seller or an advertisement fails to have a license number from the state.

A license does not guarantee a breeder is providing humane conditions for dogs, as evidenced by the four Wisconsin breeders listed in The Horrible Hundred. But a license means the breeder is inspected and being monitored, making it possible to identify problems and expose bad operations.

“The HSUS estimates that across the country there are as many as two unlicensed breeders for every one that is licensed,” said Tedrowe. “That is why we recommend that no one ever purchase a puppy without personally visiting the breeder to see where the puppy was raised. And, of course, we always encourage adoption from an animal shelter as the very best way to find a best friend.”

On the Web …

To download the full report, go to www.humanesociety.org/100puppymills.

Action alert

People who suspect a puppy mill should report the operation to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection at datcp.wi.gov. If you witness cruel or inhumane treatment of an animal, you can also report the issue to the local animal shelter and law enforcement. Also, HSUS operates the Puppy Mill Tipline at 1-877-MILL-TIP and, for information, a micro site at apuppyisnotaproduct.com.  

— L.N.

Want to reach the reporter or the newspaper. Email

Tammy Faye’s remote Kansas grave is covered with tributes of mascara and lip gloss

On the edge of Kansas’ wind-swept prairie, near a nondescript grave, sits the most recent token of affection.

It’s a tube of lip gloss.

Since her death on July 20, 2007, fans and friends of Tammy Faye Bakker Messner occasionally make pilgrimages to where the ashes of the Christian television celebrity were laid to rest, The Wichita Eagle reported. There, they leave the types of cosmetic items — lipstick, mascara — that helped give Tammy Faye her distinctive look.

In a Harper County cemetery, remote and unmarked, Tammy Faye’s gravestone is far away from the glamor, controversy and cameras that followed the woman who helped build three Christian television networks: the Christian Broadcasting Network with Pat Robertson; the Trinity Broadcasting Network with Paul Crouch; and Praise The Lord ministry — and ultimately the ill-fated Christian theme and water park Heritage USA in Fort Mill, S.C., with her first husband Jim Bakker.

“I took her down there and showed her Waldron, she thought it was a quaint little community,” said her husband, Roe Messner, a mega-church builder who for decades was based in the Wichita area and in more recent years moved to a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri.

“She was glad to see where I grew up and all. She thought it was kind of neat.”

Waldron is a throwback in time. Houses, storefronts and garages are in varying degrees of neglect along the dirt-covered streets that lie quiet until a passing vehicle stirs up rooster tails of dust.

It was once a thriving town with a railroad, two banks and two newspapers. Its population is now 10.

“It is a nice quiet place to live,” said Mayor Shirley Nelson. “Most people here are second and third generation, raised here or very close by.”

It is a tight-knit community where neighbors watch out for one another and are both protective and proud of their town’s most famous celebrity.

Roe Messner grew up in Waldron. He buried Tammy Faye’s ashes next to his mother Nellie. When it is his time, Messner — who is in his eighth decade — said he will be buried next to Tammy Faye.

“That’s our family plot,” Roe Messner said. “I buried her next to my dad and mother. My little brother is buried there.

“The press never did know Tammy. It is a shame what the press had to say. She was not anything at all about what has been written.”

Harold Waldschmidt, the cemetery sexton, said he’s seen the lipstick and mascara when he mows.

“I don’t bother it,” he said. “I feel like that is a personal thing.”

In the late stages of the failing Heritage USA and PTL empire, Tammy Faye was often portrayed on TV in tears, mascara running down her cheeks. She divorced Jim Bakker in 1992 while he was in prison for defrauding millions of his followers and after his widely publicized infidelity with Jessica Hahn.

In the meantime, Messner, who had been the chief builder of the Heritage USA theme park, was convicted of bankruptcy fraud and spent two years in prison.

Tammy Faye married Messner in 1993. In 2004, she appeared on the reality show The Surreal Life and re-emerged as a television and cult personality, this time embracing gay men infected with the AIDS virus and appearing alongside ex-porn-star Ron Jeremy.

Her faith never wavered through controversy or failing health.

“You wouldn’t believe when Tammy passed away, you know those big mail sacks?” Messner asked. “I got 12 mail sacks the week she died. It was literally thousands and thousands of sympathy cards.

“She was the most common, down-to-earth person you ever saw. The press always made her out to be some nitwit type of person. She was totally different. Her IQ was 165. She was so sharp and different than everybody thought she was.”

Even now, he said, people will sometimes write and say they have visited her graveside.

“I was down there this summer, and I could see several people there had left stuff,” he said.

Getting to Waldron, which is about 95 miles southwest of Wichita and nearly on top of the Oklahoma state line, requires back-roads determination.

Washboard roads slow SUVs to covered-wagon speeds. There are seldom any road signs, and cellphone coverage is spotty.

“You have to be kind of familiar with the area,” Nelson, the town’s mayor, acknowledged. “Some roads you can’t take all the way.”

She pointed recent visitors down the road and to the right, to the unmarked cemetery.

“I’m tickled to death,” Nelson said of people who come to visit.

“I never did meet Tammy Faye, but I always heard stories about her,” Nelson said.

This is an AP Member Exchange story provided by The Wichita Eagle.

Kansas to consider fetal heartbeat bill

Kansas legislators may soon consider proposals to ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected early in a pregnancy and to require women to wait three days before obtaining abortions.

Chairman Steve Brunk of the Kansas House Federal and State Affairs Committee expects the panel to have informational hearings on fetal heartbeat legislation after lawmakers open their annual 90-day session on Jan. 12, the Wichita Eagle reported.

The Republican-dominated Legislature has strong anti-abortion majorities in both chambers, but fetal heartbeat legislation previously has split even abortion opponents. Kansans for Life, the most influential anti-abortion group at the Statehouse, has not endorsed the idea, fearing it could result in lawsuits and court rulings that set back attempts to restrict abortion.

Since Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, a strong abortion opponent, took office in January 2011, the state has enacted a wave of new restrictions and regulations for abortion providers. But GOP legislative leaders have blocked debate on fetal heartbeat proposals, and lawmakers haven’t considered a proposal to increase the state’s waiting period for an abortion from 24 hours to 72 hours.

“As a general topic, heartbeat legislation is on the table,” said Brunk, a Wichita Republican.

Brunk also said a 72-hour waiting period could be considered after the GOP-controlled Missouri Legislature enacted such a law in September over Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto.

Kansans for Life has not yet set its agenda for the session, said Kathy Ostrowski, its legislative director. In the past, the group has pushed for incremental change.

Abortion rights groups are bracing for debates over more sweeping proposals after lawmakers last year considered technical changes in laws approved in previous years.

Abortion rights groups believe a fetal heartbeat law could ban abortions as early as the third week after conception — before many women know they’re pregnant. A bill introduced in 2013 would have prohibited non-emergency abortions before a doctor searches for a fetal heartbeat and informs a patient that one exists.

Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri said the ultimate goal of anti-abortion legislators to eliminate abortion services in Kansas. The state has three clinics that perform abortions, including one operated by Planned Parenthood in Overland Park.

“It’s a tough political environment for women’s health and women’s rights in Kansas,” she said.

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.

Federal judge orders Kansas to allow same-sex couples to marry

A federal district judge on Nov. 4 ordered Kansas to allow same-sex couples to marry.

However, Judge Daniel Crabtree delayed enforcement of the order until next week to provide the state time to appeal.

Crabtree issued a preliminary injunction barring Kansas from enforcing its constitutional ban starting at 5 p.m. on Nov. 11.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued to overturn Kansas’ ban after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear appeals from five states seeking to save their gay marriage bans. Among them were Oklahoma and Utah, which are in the same appeals court circuit as Kansas.

The ACLU says denying the couples it is representing the right to marry, even for a short period, would do them irreparable harm.

Federal court hearing on Kansas marriage ban set for today

A federal judge is to hear a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging Kansas’ ban on same-sex marriage.

The hearing this afternoon (Oct. 31) before U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree in Kansas City, Kansas, is on the ACLU’s request for an order to force Kansas to allow gay marriages.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit for two lesbian couples who were denied marriage licenses in Douglas and Sedgwick counties after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear appeals from five other states seeking to preserve gay marriage bans.

The ACLU is seeking a temporary injunction to bring Kansas into line with 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals precedents in other cases.

Kansas voters in 2005 overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriage.