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Kansas gay-rights advocates hail Supreme Court rulings

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, June 26, 2013, at 2:24 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, August 23, 2013, at 4:55 p.m.

Ben Breese and Curtis Isley have been a couple for 12 years. They plan to wed in a religious union, if not a legal one, in Wichita in November

The decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday on same-sex unions elated them, even though a 2005 constitutional amendment in Kansas still bans their legal marriage here.

“I was ecstatic. I was speechless for awhile,” Breese said at a rally in Old Town that drew 50 to 75 people to celebrate the rulings. “Overwhelmed would be one word.

“This just made our love more real,” he said.

And although they don’t have legal standing in Kansas as a gay married couple, he said, “It’s 10 steps closer than I ever thought it would be.”

The Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that denies federal benefits to legally married gay couples. It also cleared the way for same-sex marriage in California, although the high court said nothing about gay marriage bans in other states.

Even so, gay-rights advocates in Wichita and Kansas hailed the rulings as a step toward equality nationally and said it inspired them to fight to make gay marriage legal here.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who represents all of western and part of northern Kansas, said he plans to introduce a federal constitutional amendment that would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

He said in a written statement that the five Supreme Court justices who ruled in the majority on both cases “short-circuited the democratic process.”

“In the end, these unelected judges have allowed the desires of adults to trump the needs of children,” he said. “Decades of research on families, combined with generations and centuries of human experience, all agree: Children do best when they have a married mom and dad in the home. This ruling further undermines that ideal, causing harm to America’s children and all of society.”

Tom Witt, executive director of the Kansas Equality Coalition, said Congress instead should “take the next step” and repeal the part of federal law “that continues to allow states like Kansas to ignore same-sex marriages performed in other states, such as Iowa and Minnesota. Should Congress fail to act, we hope the courts will once again step in to guarantee fair treatment for all Americans.”

Patrick Munz, chairman of the coalition’s Wichita chapter, said the rulings move the nation closer to the day when same-sex marriage is recognized as equal all over, he said, including in Kansas.

“The only thing we can do, and it will take time, is get a Legislature that will pass a repeal of that amendment and put it before the voters and the voters repeal that amendment,” Munz said. “We’ve tried to get laws changed that are more favorable, but a lot of times it’s a battle of trying to keep anything more repressive and draconian being done.”

Kansas law

Bill Dunn of Wichita was in a relationship with another man for 20 years before they separated three years ago. He wonders whether that relationship might have survived had the ruling been made while they were together.

Federal benefits affecting income and estate taxes, foster care and Social Security would have made things in their relationship different, said Dunn, who is raising three sons he adopted with his former partner.

Dunn doubted the rulings would change anything in Kansas.

Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence, agreed.

“I know there are some people interested in overturning it,” said King, who chairs the state Senate Judiciary Committee, speaking of the gay marriage ban in Kansas. “I would hope that the majority of Kansans would like to keep the amendment as it is.”

Huelskamp found some positive results in the decisions. The court didn’t fabricate a constitutional right to gay marriage, he said, and it preserved the states’ sovereign power to decline recognition of same-sex marriages in other states.

“The court did NOT overrule those laws and constitutional amendments, including the Kansas Marriage Amendment I authored as a state senator, that still protect traditional marriage in 37 states,” Huelskamp said in his statement.

Some ambiguities

Although the court’s ruling provides federal benefits to gay couples in states that recognize their marriages as legal, it isn’t clear whether those couples would retain the benefits if they moved to a state like Kansas where such marriages aren’t legal. For example, if a Kansas couple went to Iowa to marry, could they return to Kansas and keep the benefits?

It’s likely a gay couple legally married in Iowa but living in Kansas could file a joint tax return for federal purposes but could not do so for state tax liability, experts said.

“This is the beginning of litigation in this whole area, not the end of it,” said Douglas Linder, a law professor and constitutional expert at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Pedro Irigonegaray, a Topeka attorney who is the counsel for the Kansas Equality Coalition, said states are to give “full faith and credit” to laws of other states, but questions arise when there are conflicting laws between states.

“I think the DOMA decision, when combined with the California decision, creates certain ambiguities that are going to require additional litigation down the road in order to sort these issues out,” he said.

“If a California couple moves to Kansas and wishes to divorce, what is Kansas going to do?” he said.

“I can see a lot of problems that could arise from this,” Irigonegaray said, “but we are moving in the right direction. This decision begins to break down the walls that separate gay, lesbian and transgender people from equal access to all the rights and benefits permissible to all other individuals in our nation, and hopefully soon in our state.”

Contributing: Dave Helling of the Kansas City Star; Associated Press

Reach Fred Mann at 316-268-6310 or fmann@wichitaeagle.com.

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