Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Judge allows gay marriages in Kansas, at least for now

I originally wrote this story for the Junction City Daily Union. However, the paper wants a story with a more local focus. 

My editor, Alix Kunkle, gave his blessing for me to publish this story here. 

Subscribe to The Daily Union to hear the story of Slone and Jaleesa Hayes, Junction City residents who were married earlier this year.

Across the country, gay and lesbian couples have filed lawsuits challenging state bans on gay marriage.

A Kansas lawsuit challenging the state ban on gay marriage has resulted in a preliminary decision that allows gay couples to marry across the state, including right here in Geary County.

The path to that decision, however, does not begin in Kansas. 
In June and July of last year, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decided state bans on gay marriage in Utah and Oklahoma violated the equal protection and due process clauses of the US Constitution. 

Utah and Oklahoma appealed to the Supreme Court, and on Oct. 6, the Supreme Court declined to their appeals.
Doug Bonney, legal director of the Kansas American Civil Liberties Union, is one of the lawyers representing gay couples in the state.

He said the ACLU decided to file its lawsuit after the Supreme Court decided not to hear the appeals of the Utah and Oklahoma cases.

“That meant, as a legal matter, the law was established in the 10th circuit,” he said. 

The 10th circuit has jurisdiction over Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Kansas. 
The case began with just four plaintiffs. 

The ACLU provided legal representation to two lesbian couples who sued the district court clerks of Douglas and Sedgwick counties for denying their marriage applications.  

On Nov. 4 the judge overseeing the case, federal district judge Daniel Crabtree, decided gay marriages should be granted in Kansas while he heard the case. 

He reasoned the outcome of the lawsuit would likely fall along similar lines to the earlier cases heard in the 10th Circuit. 
The state appealed that decision all the way to the US Supreme Court, but it was not overturned.

Bonney said while most counties in the state are following the court’s decision, a few are not. 

Which brings us back to Geary County. 

On Nov. 13 Michael Powers, the chief judge of the 8th judicial district, which includes Geary County, issued an administrative order saying court clerks were bound by the decision and should process applications for gay marriage licences. 

The ACLU thought the state of Kansas might concede the case after gay marriage licenses began to be granted as a result of the ruling. 

However, it did not. 

Instead, the case grew. 

The ACLU added more plaintiffs to the case who were married in other states whose marriages were not recognized by Kansas.

Some were state employees who were not allow to add their spouse as a dependent beneficiary on their state health insurance. 

Others were not allowed to change their last name on their driver’s license after being married. 

Bonney said another problem same sex couples face is that the state does not allow them to file their taxes as a married couple.

“Turbo tax has a very hard time allowing you to do one thing for a federal return and not allowing you to do the same thing for a state return,” he said.  

However, Bonney believes the case is about more than just taxes, driver’s licenses, and insurance.

He said the case seeks to uphold fundamental American values.

“People should be treated equally regardless of whoever they love, whoever they decide to marry,” he said. 

But the case itself revolves around legal technicalities. 

Bonney said the government isn’t asking the judge to rule on the merits of banning gay marriage.

“The state defendants claim we sued the wrong defendants, that our clients don’t have legal standing to sue and other such technical pleading defenses that really don’t go to the merits of this claim,” he said. 

While he said his crystal ball is perennially cloudy, Bonney said he believes Crabtree will issue a ruling on the case in the early summer. 

The judge’s decision, however, may not matter for too long.
The Supreme Court decided to hear an appeal of similar decisions in January. 

Oral arguments in that case are scheduled for April 28, and the court is expected to make a ruling by the end of its term in June.

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