Kansas attorney general wants gay marriage clarity
Topeka ? Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said Wednesday that his vigorous defense of the state’s gay marriage ban is designed to get a final decision from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Without such a ruling, the legal uncertainty — which has some Kansas counties allowing gay couples to marry while others refuse — will persist, he said during an interview with The Associated Press.
He said same-sex couples’ marriages are legal now, but they can’t yet be sure their unions will remain so.
“I don’t think anybody can answer the question — other than the U.S. Supreme Court — for the long-term,” Schmidt said. “Everybody can speculate, but until the U.S. Supreme Court takes a case and decides the question, the reality is nobody can know for sure.”
Tom Witt, executive director of the gay rights group Equality Kansas, said Schmidt continues with “the same political games.” Schmidt is a Republican, and social conservatives are an important constituency within the GOP.
Gay marriage is legal in 32 other states, and a federal judge struck down Montana’s ban Wednesday.
The nation’s highest court also has been asked to review a federal appeals court ruling upholding same-sex marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. The court could rule by June.
Same-sex couples in Kansas have been marrying in some but not all of the state’s 105 counties since late last week. Fourteen couples had a single ceremony Monday on the steps of the old county courthouse in Wichita.
Schmidt said abandoning his defense of the gay-marriage ban, as some gay-rights advocates want, would leave the legal climate in Kansas confused.
The U.S. Supreme Court last week blocked Kansas from enforcing its ban while a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union proceeds in the federal courts. The ACLU sued over the denial of marriage licenses to lesbian couples in two counties.
Schmidt pursued a separate case before the Kansas Supreme Court over a decision by a judge in Johnson County, the state’s most populous, to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The Kansas court Tuesday allowed gay marriages to go forward there, but didn’t make a definitive ruling about the rest of the state. Local chief judges are left to decide whether district court clerks issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
Schmidt’s comments Wednesday were his most expansive about the gay-marriage dispute. He’s said previously he has an obligation to defend the ban because voters overwhelmingly added a provision against same-sex marriage to the state constitution in 2005. As a state senator, Schmidt voted to put the measure on the ballot.
“I think I’d be doing a tremendous disservice to people on all sides of this question, as well as to the citizens of Kansas generally, if I took it upon myself to arrogantly decide that I have the authority to pick and choose which parts of the state constitution ought to be defended.”
But Witt said Schmidt so far “has been turned back every step of the way.” And the U.S. Supreme Court refused last month to consider requests from Oklahoma and Utah to preserve their bans after they were struck down by the same federal appeals court for Kansas.
“He needs to quit burning taxpayer money. He needs to get out of the way of couples getting married,” Witt said. “At this point, he’s arguing just for the sake of argument.”