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Brownback Won't Allow Marriage Rights To Gay Couples In Kansas

Peggy Lowe

Although gay and lesbian couples are getting married in at least 24 Kansas counties, Gov. Sam Brownback won’t allow any state recognition of the unions.

Brownback said Thursday that he won’t offer any of the benefits heterosexual couples get, such as name changes on a driver’s license or employee benefits for gay and lesbian state workers.

“There is still considerable legal ambiguity on the topic of same-sex marriage,” said Eileen Hawley, a Brownback spokeswoman. “Once that ambiguity is gone, the governor will direct state agencies to comply with applicable laws.”

The state government’s response has been as uneven as the patchwork of places that now offer marriage rights to same-sex couples since a flurry of court decisions, including a federal court and the Kansas Supreme Court, during the last few weeks.

As Brownback denies state services to gay and lesbian couples, Attorney General Derek Schmidt has said the unions are legal, yet he would fight the issue all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.  His spokeswoman confirmed that in an email to KCUR Thursday.

Marriage advocates are angry about the delay. Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, wondered why Schmidt would say the unions are legal but that Brownback would continue to deny gay and lesbian couples any legal recognition.

“It’s clear that they don’t respect what’s coming from the federal courts and they will continue to discriminate and deny gay and lesbian couples their constitutional rights as long as they can,” Witt said.

Witt said it’s as if Kansas House Bill 2453, which allowed businesses and state employees to refuse services to gays and lesbians, had passed. It was cleared by the House early this year, but later killed by the Senate.

“They’re still trying to act like that’s the law,” Witt said, “and that’s not the law.”

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.
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