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Court Order Halts Marriage Licenses For Gay Couples In Johnson County, Kansas

Equality Kansas

The Kansas Supreme Court late Friday ordered a Johnson County judge to immediately halt issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Acting on a request from Attorney General Derek Schmidt, the court said it was concerned about "statewide consistency" on marriage laws, given the state's constitutional ban on gay unions.

The court said it would take briefs on the subject until Oct. 28 and make a ruling later. However, the order states that clerks may continue to accept marriage license applications from same sex couples in the interim.

The decision capped a busy day that included an historic first, a flurry of court filings and an accusation of election year posing.

Also Friday, the ACLU filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the state's ban.

The first gay marriage license was issued in Johnson County, Kan., early Friday. Within a few hours, Schmidt filed with the Kansas Supreme Court, asking for an immediate order to halt the issuing of licenses.

Schmidt's petition said a judge exceeded his authority in ordering clerks to no longer deny marriage applications from same-sex couples, creating  a situation that is "needlessly uncertain, is untenable and is unfair to all interested parties."

“The Johnson County Court’s decision is an outlier," Schmidt said in a statement.  "Numerous other Kansas Courts have concluded, as I have, that the law in Kansas remains unchanged and same-sex marriage remains unlawful."

Thomas Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said Schmidt and Gov. Sam Brownback should stop playing election year politics and allow legal marriages to proceed.

"The federal courts have ruled, and we all know how this will end," Witt said. "Delaying the inevitable is a waste of time and taxpayer money, and a gross injustice to LGBT Kansans and their families."

News of the license comes from the Associated Press, which quotes Liz Dickinson, a member of the gay-rights group Equality Kansas. Dickinson told the AP that she was at the county courthouse in Olathe on Friday when the couple received their license.

The Johnson County District Court clerk's office confirmed that a license was issued but didn’t identify the couple, the AP reported.

On Wednesday, Kevin Moriarty, chief judge of the 10th Judicial District in Johnson County, ordered clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

That was triggered by Monday’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which failed to overturn lower court decisions that said gay marriage bans in five states were unconstitutional. The decision was seen as an opening for Kansas gay marriage advocates, since two of the cases were from Utah and Oklahoma, part of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The issuance of a license on Friday was good news for those who want to get married, said Doug Bonney of the ACLU of Kansas. But it’s not clear that the license would be valid. The ACLU lawsuit seeks to overturn Kansas’ gay marriage ban, which was approved by voters in 2005.

“We need resolution on a statewide basis," Bonney said. "I hope that we are able to get a prompt judicial decision that will go along with the 10th Circuit decisions in the Utah and Oklahoma cases and then state officials will recognize that the game’s over.”

State officials, including Brownback, said earlier this week that the state would defend the ban since it was approved by voters.

"I don't know much more you can bolster it than to have a vote of the people to put in the constitution that marriage is the union of a man and a woman," Brownback said.

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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