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Recall Sought For Kansas Judge Who Allowed Marriage Licenses to Gay Couples

Johnson County District Court

The Johnson County, Kan., judge who approved the issuing of marriage licenses for same-sex couples is now the subject of a recall.

Bruce Baumgardner, a physiology professor at Johnson County Community College, on Friday announced that he is trying to oust Johnson County Chief Judge Kevin Moriarty by urging people to vote against him in the November election, according to the Kansas City Star.

Moriarty ordered clerks to begin issuing the licenses on Oct. 8, saying he did it in “the interest of justice and to avoid the uncertainty” that had come about after courts had ruled against prohibitions on gay marriage.

The first marriage license for a same-sex couple was issued on Oct. 10, but just hours later, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt won an order from the Kansas Supreme Court placing a halt on the unions pending a later decision.

That left the issue in a legal limbo of sorts, with one lesbian couple, known only as Kelli and Angela, married in Johnson County – although Schmidt argued that the union wasn’t valid. To add to the confusion — or a signal of the case's outcome — the high court allowed county clerks to continue issuing licenses.

In Johnson County, 65 applications have been accepted and are being held until the Supreme Court makes its decision, said Sandy McCurdy, chief clerk of the Johnson County District Court.

Baumgardner and Moriarty didn't return phone calls seeking comment.

In another case on gay marriage in Kansas, a hearing set for federal court on Friday was postponed. This case was filed by two gay couples, who were denied marriage licenses in Douglas and Sedgwick counties.

The delay was requested by the ACLU of Kansas, which is representing the gay couples. Doug Bonney, the ACLU’s legal director, said U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree had indicated he would rule only on the request for a temporary restraining order. The ACLU also wants a preliminary injunction, Bonney said, so the state must end its refusal to issue licenses and recognize same-sex unions.

“We want marriage,” Bonney said.

Schmidt is defending the state’s lawthat says marriage is between one man and one woman. In his motion, he said states have exclusive control over what’s called “domestic relations,” like marriage.

In another, unusual filing in the case, a straight couple from Harper, Kan., is asking the court to uphold the state’s same-sex marriage ban. The couple, Phillip and Sandra Unruh, said extending marriage to gay couples is “deeply disturbing” and that they don’t want to share the term “marriage.”

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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