Thursday, June 27, 2013

U.S. Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage could affect Kansas

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

Supporters of gay rights in Kansas celebrated two major U.S. Supreme Court decisions released Wednesday, saying the rulings have opened the door to overturning the state's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

"There is light at the end of the tunnel," said Stephanie Mott, of the Kansas Equality Coalition, at a rally that drew about 50 people outside the Statehouse.

"There is reason to believe that in our lifetime, we will be able to marry the person that we love, even in Kansas," she said.

But the author of that state constitutional amendment, U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, vowed to push for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that defines marriage "as the union of one man and one woman."

Huelskamp blasted the Supreme Court, saying, "This radical usurpation of legislative and popular authority will not end the debate over marriage in this country. Congress clearly must respond to these bad decisions."

In 5-4 rulings, the Supreme Court struck down a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that denies federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples, and let stand same-sex marriage in California.

Repeated requests for response from Attorney General Derek Schmidt on the impact of the decision were not answered. Gov. Sam Brownback, who voted for DOMA when he was in the U.S. Senate, also did not respond for requests to his office for comment.

Advocates on both sides of the issue indicated that neither decision has any immediate impact on Kansas' constitutional amendment that declares marriage must be between one man and one woman.

But gay rights advocates and legal scholars said the decision may be the beginning of the end for the amendment, which was passed by an overwhelming majority of voters in Kansas in 2005.

Kansas University constitutional law professor Rick Levy said the court decisions increase the likelihood that the constitutional same-sex marriage ban will be overturned at some point.

He added that the Supreme Court ruling in the DOMA case is "highly significant," calling it "another step down the road to saying same-sex couples have an equal right to marry."

The Supreme Court decisions were greeted enthusiastically by gay and lesbian supporters who turned out for a rally in South Park.

“This is just the next step in getting our relationships recognized legally all over the country,” said Lisa Rasor, who last year married her longtime partner Lori Wagner in Iowa, one of 12 states that recognize same-sex marriages.

Mike Boring said it is still not clear whether he and his husband George King can file joint federal tax returns because even though they were married in Iowa where same-sex marriage is legal, they live in Kansas where it is not.

“We're still going to see how that works out,” Boring said. “But it's a step in the right direction.”

The two rulings also gratified some heterosexual couples, including Gary Brunk and his wife Joey Sprague.

“I think it's historic, I think it's a real move forward for equality, and our marriage doesn't feel threatened,” Brunk said.

State Sen. Marci Francisco, a Lawrence Democrat who voted against the Kansas amendment when it was adopted in 2005, said she doubts the rulings will prompt the Kansas Legislature to revisit the gay marriage issue.

“My understanding is that the decisions today in some ways invited further court action, and one of those actions would be to review the rights of states,” Francisco said.

Scott Criqui, the vice chairman for the Lawrence branch of the Kansas Equality Coalition, said, "I think it's wonderful news. It’s definitely a step in the right direction. I’m so happy for my friends who live in California. It’s as positive as anyone could expect with this Supreme Court."

Maggie Childs, an associate professor at Kansas University and a former chairwoman of the Kansas Equality Coalition, was pleased with the decision but said the struggle for equality was far from over.

"We still have things to do, and we shouldn’t forget we don’t have a no-discrimination in the workplace law on the national level," she said.

Levy noted that another provision of DOMA says states don't have to recognize a marriage that is valid in another state. The court did not act on that provision.

Thomas Witt, executive director of the Kansas Equality Coalition, said Congress needs to repeal that part of DOMA.

"Should Congress fail to act, we hope the courts will once again step in to guarantee fair treatment for all Americans," Witt said.

Witt said KEC was "elated that the Court stood on the right side of history for justice, fairness, and equality for all citizens." But, he said, Kansas and 36 other states "still treat gay and lesbian couples and their children as unequal and second-class citizens."