Government & Politics

Patchwork of same-sex marriage laws starts unfolding across Kansas

So far, 70 couples have filed marriage license applications with Johnson County, which is currently barred from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples as it awaits a ruling from the Kansas Supreme Court. Other counties in Kansas are split on issuing the licenses after a ruling Wednesday.
So far, 70 couples have filed marriage license applications with Johnson County, which is currently barred from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples as it awaits a ruling from the Kansas Supreme Court. Other counties in Kansas are split on issuing the licenses after a ruling Wednesday. The Associated Press

The legal battle over same-sex marriage raged on Thursday despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing gay and lesbian couples to wed.

A day after the high court’s ruling, a mixed picture was developing over where same-sex marriages in Kansas would be allowed.

Wyandotte, Douglas, Shawnee, Sedgwick, Riley and Cowley counties agreed to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Johnson County was still not allowed to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples under an order by the Kansas Supreme Court. The state’s high court will consider the Johnson County case Monday morning.

Meanwhile, three counties in southeast Kansas — Butler, Greenwood and Elk — refused to give licenses to same-sex couples until they’re convinced they’re “subject to a valid and binding court order.”

“It’s basically chaos and confusion entirely created by our state government,” said Tom Witt, executive director of the gay rights group Equality Kansas.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Kansas must allow same-sex marriages to go forward while the state defends its ban on lesbian and gay couples getting married. Kansas is appealing a lower-court order blocking the ban, but legal experts think it’s unlikely the state will succeed.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt read the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to apply only to Douglas and Sedgwick counties, where two lesbian couples challenging the ban were denied marriage licenses.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the case on behalf of the couples, contends the Supreme Court decision applies statewide.

The federal judge “specifically held that Kansas’ marriage bans are unconstitutional on their face and cannot be enforced against anyone under any circumstances,” ACLU legal director Doug Bonney said in a statement.

“It is our expectation that the attorney general and all other Kansas officials will — like their counterparts in Oklahoma, Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming — stop enforcing the marriage bans,” he wrote.

Interviews with court officials across eastern Kansas gave no indication whether same-sex marriages would be issued in those jurisdictions. In those areas, officials said they would accept applications but could not say whether a marriage license would be issued.

Bonney said he could always add the counties that refused to comply with the same-sex marriage ruling to his court challenge.

Johnson County is unique because it’s the only county in Kansas under orders from the state Supreme Court not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The state Supreme Court blocked Judge Kevin Moriarty’s order directing the court clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Seventy same-sex couples in Johnson County applied for marriage licenses.

The attorney general challenged the order, arguing that Moriarty overstepped his authority because he wasn’t ruling on a specific case.

It is possible the state Supreme Court could clarify the matter for state judges by finding that the Johnson County case is now moot and that the federal court order on marriage applies throughout the state.

To reach Brad Cooper, call 816-234-7724 or send email to bcooper@kcstar.com.

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