Gay couples in Kansas await Supreme Court action on same-sex marriage

U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court

TOPEKA, Kan. — Gay marriage advocates in Kansas are waiting to see whether the U.S. Supreme Court allows same-sex couples to wed but aren’t sure a favorable decision will persuade all local officials to issue marriage licenses.

U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court

The nation’s highest court was considering Wednesday whether to block Kansas from enforcing its ban on gay marriage while federal courts review a legal challenge. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit last month on behalf of two lesbian couples who were denied marriage licenses.

A federal judge ordered the state to stop enforcing its ban as of 5 p.m. Tuesday – when county courthouses were closed for Veterans Day. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt appealed to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She put the federal judge’s order on hold and gave the ACLU a chance to respond to the state’s request to maintain the ban for now.

Marriage licenses in Kansas are issued by state district court clerks’ offices after a mandatory three-day wait. Schmidt last month petitioned the Kansas Supreme Court to block licenses for gay couples, just hours before the ACLU filed its federal case. The Kansas court said license applications could be accepted but not granted as it reviewed Schmidt’s case.

The developments left gay-rights advocates wondering whether local court clerks would resist issuing licenses to gay couples even if the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for them.

“It’s all pretty unsettled,” said Tom Witt, executive director of the gay-rights group Equality Kansas.

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Same-sex marriage is legal in 32 states. But Kansas voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state constitution in 2005 to reinforce a longstanding policy against gay marriage.

Gay couples in Kansas began seeking marriage licenses after the U.S. Supreme Court refused Oct. 6 to hear appeals from five other states seeking to preserve their gay-marriage bans following adverse lower-court rulings.

Chief judges in Douglas and Sedgwick County directed their clerks’ offices not to issue licenses to same-sex couples, prompting the ACLU’s federal lawsuit.

But the chief judge in Johnson County, in the Kansas City area and the state’s most populous county, ordered licenses to be issued, prompting Schmidt’s petition to the Kansas Supreme Court.

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