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Some Kansas Counties Issue Marriage Licenses to Gay Couples

Peggy Lowe

Updated at 2:34 p.m.

At least six of Kansas' 105 counties issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Thursday, a day after  the U.S. Supreme Court let take effect an order overturning  a ban state officials had feverishly hoped to keep in place.

Apparently defying the Supreme Court's order, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt on Wednesday seemed to imply in a staffer's email to a reporter that the only two counties that could issue licenses to gay and lesbian couples are Douglas and Sedgwick, which are named in a federal court decision finding the state's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.

Despite that, judges in Wyandotte and Shawnee counties gave the go-ahead to same-sex marriages Thursday morning. Cowley and Riley counties were also issuing licenses and couples in each county got married Thursday, said Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas.

Chief Judge R. Wayne Lampson said he had issued an administrative order allowing the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses provided other legal requirements for marriage are met.

“Except (the couples will) come to me for review because this thing is in such a state of flux,” Lampson told KCUR.

In Douglas County, at least two couples received licenses and planned on marrying later in the day. The two couples, who applied for licenses in Johnson County in early October, initially went to that county but were told by officials that they couldn't issue licenses because of a pending Kansas Supreme Court case.

On Thursday afternoon, the Kansas Supreme Court announced that it would begin deliberations in that case at 8 a.m. Monday.

"The court will release its decision as soon as it is able to following deliberations," the court said in a statement.  

Brian and Randy, a couple who live in Johnson County and have been together for 19 years, didn't want to give their last names or have their pictures taken. They have their legal papers together, but adding a marriage makes it more secure here, they said.

Still, they said it was "surreal" to get the license today as they thought it would be a long time before same-sex couples could get married in Kansas.

"Honestly, I had always made the joke that I probably wouldn't even have all my teeth by the time I was able to get married in the state of Kansas," Brian said. "The times are definitely changing faster than many people would expect."

Witt, the head of Equality Kansas, was angry that Schmidt was not allowing the ban to fall statewide.

“It’s absolutely ludicrous," Witt said. "He needs to quit playing politics with our lives, get out of the way, stop burning taxpayers money and let us exercise our constitutional rights."

In his ruling last week, U.S. District Judge Daniel D. Crabtree said he was bound by previous rulings by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver striking down same-sex marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma. Kansas is part of that federal judicial circuit.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor had temporarily delayed Crabtree’s order from taking effect on Monday. But late Wednesday afternoon the full Supreme Court, in a two-sentence order, rejected Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s emergency request to delay Crabtree’s order.

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas disagreed and would have allowed Kansas’ ban to remain in effect.

The two couples in the case before Crabtree had sought and were denied marriage licenses in Douglas and Sedgwick counties. Schmidt maintains Wednesday’s Supreme Court order applies only to those counties, but lawyers for the ACLU, which filed the suit on behalf of the couples, insist it applies statewide.

"We won!" said Doug Bonney, legal director of the ACLU.  "Let marriages begin."

Meanwhile, Johnson County’s court clerk says that court can’t issue marriage licenses to at least 70 same-sex couples who have applied because the pending case in the Kansas Supreme Court prevents it from doing so.

Johnson County Chief Judge Kevin P. Moriarty last month directed court clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But Schmidt sought review in the Kansas Supreme Court, which temporarily halted the practice until it decides whether the Kansas ban is unconstitutional.

Click here for a timeline of Kansas, Missouri and federal court actions.

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
Dan Margolies has been a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, and KCUR Public Radio. He retired as a reporter in December 2022 after a 37-year journalism career.
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