Updated: 9:00 p.m. CST
TOPEKA, Kan. — A gay rights leader in Kansas said Monday that he expects same-sex couples to seek marriage licenses at county courthouses later this week and have weddings quickly as courts consider whether the state can enforce its gay marriage ban.
A look at where things stand:
THE NATION’S HIGHEST COURT
Sotomayor put on hold a federal judge’s ruling that prevents the state from enforcing its ban on gay marriage. The lower-court ruling had been set to take effect at 5 p.m. CST Tuesday.
The judge’s injunction came in a lawsuit filed last month by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of two lesbian couples who were denied marriage licenses in Douglas and Sedgwick Counties. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt wants the state to be able to enforce its ban on gay marriage while the lawsuit is reviewed by the federal courts, but the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals had rejected his request.
It’s possible that Sotomayor’s order Monday won’t remain in effect long. She directed the ACLU to respond to Schmidt’s request by 4 p.m. CST Tuesday, which is Veterans Day.
If she reconsiders quickly, gay couples could be going to courthouses this week to pick up marriage licenses.
“I am definitely not giving up hope on that,” said Tom Witt, executive director of the gay-rights group Equality Kansas.
ATTORNEY GENERAL’S POSITION
Schmidt contends he had a duty to seek help from Sotomayor – who handles emergency requests involving 10th Circuit cases – because the state’s gay-marriage ban was bolstered in 2005 when voters overwhelmingly added a provision to the state constitution to reinforce its traditional definition of marriage.
In the request to Sotomayor, Schmidt’s office said that without a stay of the lower-court order, the state and its people will “suffer severe harm to their sovereign dignity.”
The ACLU’s federal lawsuit is not the only case on gay marriage in Kansas.
Schmidt filed a separate case with the Kansas Supreme Court last month after a lesbian couple in Johnson County, the state’s most populous county, received a marriage license and quickly wed, becoming the only same-sex couple known to have done so. That case is before the state Supreme Court, which blocked other licenses from being issued.
The attorney general cited the Kansas Supreme Court case as a reason the U.S. Supreme Court should put the federal judge’s order in the ACLU case on hold.
To complicate matters further, Chief Judge Wayne Lampson of the state district court in Wyandotte County, adjacent to Johnson County, issued an administrative order Monday directing its clerk’s office to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples starting Wednesday. Lampson cited the federal judge’s order.
HOW WE GOT HERE
Kansas same-sex couples began applying for marriage licenses after the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 6 refused to hear appeals from five other states seeking to preserve gay marriage bans, effectively legalizing same-sex unions in those states. In Kansas, licenses are issued by state district court clerks’ offices after a mandatory three-day wait, a period that for many will be up Wednesday morning.
The attorney general says the federal judge’s injunction would apply only in Douglas and Sedgwick counties. But Witt and the ACLU argue that all court clerks in all counties will be obligated to issue licenses to same-sex couples.
Also, the Kansas Supreme Court ruling in the attorney general’s lawsuit that blocks further licenses remains in effect. It’s still not clear whether the state Supreme Court’s actions will continue to keep gay couples from obtaining licenses.
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