Kansas Supreme Court discusses gay marriage case - KCTV5 News

Kansas Supreme Court discusses gay marriage case

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -

The Kansas Supreme Court debated Monday whether to authorize same-sex marriage licenses as gay couples made their own plans following favorable federal court rulings.

The Kansas court was reviewing a petition from state Attorney General Derek Schmidt, hoping to block marriage licenses for same-sex couples until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on whether the state's ban on gay marriage is constitutional. The court discussed the case in a closed meeting, and spokeswoman Lisa Taylor couldn't say when it would issue a ruling.

The federal courts already have stepped in because of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of two lesbian couples denied licenses in Douglas and Sedgwick counties. The U.S. Supreme Court last week refused to allow Kansas to enforce its gay-marriage ban while the federal case moves forward, and gay couples have obtained licenses in at least a handful of the state's 105 counties.

State district court clerks who issue marriage licenses in Kansas were getting different orders in different areas.

The chief judge for Butler, Elk and Greenwood counties in south-central Kansas said they would continue to deny marriage licenses for same-sex couples until he saw a court order "clearly and unequivocally" applying to them. But his counterpart for Cherokee, Crawford and Labette counties in southeast Kansas directed that marriage licenses be issued to same-sex couples because "there is no reason they should be required to wait longer."

"Couples are not waiting," said Tom Witt, executive director of the gay-rights group Equality Kansas. "A lot of us think we've been waiting long enough."

Schmidt, a Republican just re-elected with 67 percent of the vote, argues that he's obligated to defend the gay marriage ban because voters overwhelmingly approved it for the state constitution in 2005. The attorney general says the U.S. Supreme Court order applies only in Douglas and Sedgwick counties because no other counties' court clerks were sued. The ACLU argues it applies statewide.

Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff King, an Independence Republican, agrees with Schmidt's assessment and said the state constitution gives "specific direction" on same-sex marriage for most counties until the U.S. Supreme Court specifically strikes down the ban.

"District courts' jobs are to support constitutional provisions likewise," King said.

Schmidt filed his petition with the Kansas Supreme Court last month after the chief district judge in Johnson County, the state's most populous county, directed that marriage licenses be issued to same-sex couples following the U.S. Supreme Court's refusal Oct. 6 to hear appeals from five other states seeking to preserve bans. A lesbian couple received a license there and quickly wed, but the Kansas Supreme Court blocked further licenses.

District court clerks in two north-central Kansas counties are accepting applications for marriage licenses from same-sex couples but not approving them.

Court Administrator Todd Heitschmidt said Monday that Chief District Judge Jerome Hellmer has directed that no action be taken on such applications in Ottawa and Saline counties until the Kansas Supreme Court decides whether gay marriages can go forward.

Ottawa and Saline counties make up the 28th Judicial District. Heitschmidt said Saline county received four applications last week from same-sex couples.

Wichita church has married 14 gay and lesbian couples on the steps of a historic courthouse building downtown.

About 100 people attended the ceremony Monday evening by the First Metropolitan Community Church outside the old Sedgwick County courthouse.

Among the couples were Scott and Raymond Tholl of Wichita, who've been together 12 years.

Scott Tholl said they wanted to be part of something historic.

The ceremony was briefly interrupted by a heckler who shouted, "God said, `No."' Several men removed the heckler and the crowd shouted, "God said, `Yes."

The ceremony came less than a week after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a request from the state to continue enforcing its ban on gay marriage while a lawsuit challenging it is reviewed by the federal courts.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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