TOPEKA, Kan. — Gay and lesbian couples wed Monday evening on the steps of a historic courthouse in Wichita, even as officials elsewhere in Kansas refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex partners because the state Supreme Court has not yet signed off.
The Kansas court deliberated in private for hours Monday, but at least a few state district court judges and clerks took their cues from a U.S. Supreme Court decision last week allowing gay marriages to go forward despite the state’s ban, reinforced by a provision in the Kansas Constitution.
The state’s highest court was reviewing a petition from Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, seeking to block marriage licenses for same-sex couples until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on whether state bans on gay marriage are constitutional. Spokeswoman Lisa Taylor couldn’t say when the Kansas court would rule.
Federal courts already have stepped in because of a lawsuit filed last month by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of two lesbian couples denied licenses in Douglas and Sedgwick counties. The U.S. Supreme Court last week refused to allow Kansas to enforce its gay-marriage ban while the federal case moves forward, and gay couples have obtained licenses in at least a handful of the state’s 105 counties.
The First Metropolitan Community Church in Wichita had a wedding Monday for 14 gay and lesbian couples outside the old Sedgwick County courthouse. About 100 people attended.
“We wanted to be part of something historic,” said Scott Tholl, a 34-year-old Wichita resident who married his partner of 12 years, Raymond, 57.
Yet state district court clerks who issue marriage licenses were getting different orders in different areas.
The chief judge for Butler, Elk and Greenwood counties in south-central Kansas said they would continue to deny marriage licenses for same-sex couples until he saw a court order “clearly and unequivocally” applying to them. The court administrator for Saline and Ottawa counties said they were accepting same-sex marriage applications but not approving them until a Kansas Supreme Court ruling. The chief judge for Cherokee, Crawford and Labette counties in southeast Kansas directed that marriage licenses be issued to same-sex couples because “there is no reason they should be required to wait longer.”
Schmidt, a Republican just re-elected with 67 percent of the vote, argues that he’s obligated to defend the gay marriage ban because voters overwhelmingly approved it for the state constitution in 2005.
In Wichita, a heckler briefly interrupted the marriage ceremony, shouting, “God said, ‘No.'” Several men removed him and the crowd shouted, “God said, ‘Yes.”
Schmidt says the U.S. Supreme Court order applies only in Douglas and Sedgwick counties because no other counties’ court clerks were sued. The ACLU argues it applies statewide.
Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff King, an Independence Republican, agrees with Schmidt’s assessment and said the state constitution gives “specific direction” on same-sex marriage for most counties until the U.S. Supreme Court specifically strikes down the ban.
“District courts’ jobs are to support constitutional provisions likewise,” King said.
Schmidt filed his petition with the Kansas Supreme Court last month after the chief district judge in Johnson County, the state’s most populous county, directed that marriage licenses be issued to same-sex couples following the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal Oct. 6 to hear appeals from five other states seeking to preserve bans. A lesbian couple received a license there and quickly wed, but the Kansas Supreme Court blocked further licenses.
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