With the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage pending, many people in Kansas and Missouri are confused about the state of the unions here.
In shorthand, whether same-sex couples can get married depends on where you live. Both states are a marriage mixed bag, with some counties offering licenses and others refusing to allow gay weddings.
To clear up some of the confusion as we await word from the high court, here’s our FAQs on TTK (tying the knot):
Q: Just what is the high court deciding?
Two issues: whether states have the right to ban same-sex marriage; and whether states can refuse to recognize those marriages performed in other states.
Put another way, to quote SCOTUSblog: “1.) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex? 2.) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?”
Q: Where can same-sex couples get marriage licenses now?
Missouri — three places: the city of St. Louis, St. Louis County and Jackson County.
Kansas — Johnson County and 60 other counties (out of a total of 105 counties), where clerks or judges decided to honor a federal appellate court decision.
That’s despite the opinion of Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who has appealed that federal court decision and is trying to uphold the gay marriage ban. He’s joined by Gov. Sam Brownback, who has said he won’t allow state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages for things like spousal health care benefits.
Q: What about marriages for gays and lesbians performed in other states?
Missouri — the state recognizes these unions, thanks to a Jackson County court decision. And, under an executive order by Gov. Jay Nixon in 2013, those couples have been able to file state income taxes as a couple.
Kansas — no recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states (or even Kansas).
Q: What happens if the U.S. Supreme Court rules state marriage bans unconstitutional, as many predict?
A: Marriage would be a right for all couples. Unions performed in one state would be honored in all, much like what happened to interracial marriages with the Loving v. Virginia decision.
Q: What happens to gay and lesbian couples who were married here or elsewhere if the U.S. Supreme Court allows states to keep marriage bans in place?
A: That’s “the big unknown,” says Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri.
“One thing that we do know is that there have been several states where marriage licenses were issued and then stopped by courts. We do know that in Michigan, Utah and Arkansas, courts have said marriage licenses that were issued are still good. You don’t become unmarried by a later court decision.”
Q: What happens to the marriage equality movement if the U.S. Supreme Court allows the bans to stay in place?
A: Most experts agree that the fight will move back to the courts or state legislatures. Same-sex marriage advocates believe that public opinion is now on their side, so they could win their rights even by taking it directly to voters.
Sources: Tony Rothert, ACLU; Tom Witt, Equality Kansas; SCOTUSblog; past reporting.