TOPEKA, Kan. — Hours after Kansas' most populous county issued a same-sex marriage license to a couple who quickly wed, the state Supreme Court on Friday blocked the granting of any more such licenses.
But the victory for supporters of the Kansas Constitution's ban on gay marriage could be short-lived. The state's highest court signaled in its brief order that it has questions about whether the ban is permissible under recent federal court rulings, and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn it.
The state's highest court acted on a petition filed by Attorney General Derek Schmidt to stop the Johnson County District Court clerk's office from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. The first such license — believed to be the only one — was issued Friday morning under an order from Chief Judge Kevin Moriarty.
Moriarty concluded that the state's ban on gay marriage would not stand after the U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to hear appeals from five states seeking to save their prohibitions on same-sex marriages. But at the time of the first legal gay marriage in Kansas, there was no pending lawsuit in state or federal courts directly challenging the Kansas ban. That prompted the response from Schmidt.
Gov. Sam Brownback, a fellow Republican, expressed support for Schmidt's move and said the ban should not be overturned by "activist judges." The constitutional provision was approved in a statewide election in 2005 with nearly 70 percent of voters backing it.
The gay rights group Equality Kansas remained confident that the state's ban will fall, even if executive director Tom Witt acknowledged some frustration that Schmidt refused to acquiesce to marriage licenses for same-sex couples.
"It's delay caused by the attorney general and Sam Brownback, and it's unnecessary because we know how this ends," Witt said.
Schmidt said his goal is to "freeze the status quo in place until the legal dispute can be properly resolved."
"I am a strong advocate for an orderly resolution of this dispute in a way that will be accepted by all parties as legally correct and that allows the state to defend its constitutional provision and its laws," Schmidt told The Associated Press just before his office filed the petition. His office declined comment after the state Supreme Court acted.
The state's highest court blocked the granting of further marriage licenses for gay couples "in the interest of establishing statewide consistency," said its order, signed by Chief Justice Lawton Nuss. But the court cited recent federal court decisions striking down other states' bans and said it would consider arguments on whether the ban remains permissible under the U.S. Constitution.
The court set a hearing for Nov. 6 — two days after the general election.
Conservative states such as Oklahoma and Utah, both in the same federal appeals court circuit as Kansas, have seen prohibitions on same-sex marriages declared unconstitutional. Some states are fighting court decisions or have not yet instituted mechanisms for weddings, but at least 30 states now allow gay marriage.
Wedding plans for other gay couples across Kansas were in limbo, with nearly all of the state's 105 counties refusing to issue marriage licenses. In Riley County in northeast Kansas, a couple whose application for a marriage license was accepted Thursday learned Friday that a judge had denied it.
The ACLU's new federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of two lesbian couples, one in Douglas County and one in Sedgwick County, both of whom had been denied marriage licenses.
It wasn't clear whether Kansas would recognize the gay marriage performed in Johnson County. District Court Clerk Sandra McCurdy confirmed that the license was issued and that the couple married shortly after receiving it but declined to disclose the couple's names.
McCurdy's office received 51 other applications for licenses from gay couples by midday Friday. But she said none of the others received licenses because Kansas has a three-day waiting period.
The Johnson County newlyweds, Kelli and Angela, asked to be identified only by their first names to help protect their privacy, but did agree to allow a photograph of them after the ceremony to be used. In a statement released through Equality Kansas, they said they wanted to celebrate privately.
Kansas Supreme Court site for its gay-marriage case: http://bit.ly/1xzOWJB
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