15 same-sex couples marry in mass legal ceremony in Sedgwick County

Krista Casmaer, left, and Mindy Kufahl trade wedding bands Monday with Kufahl’s daughter Phoebe Edgerton-Kufahl, 7, as witness during a mass same-sex marriage ceremony on the steps of the Historic Sedgwick County Courthouse. (Nov.17, 2014)
Krista Casmaer, left, and Mindy Kufahl trade wedding bands Monday with Kufahl’s daughter Phoebe Edgerton-Kufahl, 7, as witness during a mass same-sex marriage ceremony on the steps of the Historic Sedgwick County Courthouse. (Nov.17, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

Despite vocal opposition and freezing temperatures, Monday was a day for Kansas history textbooks.

On the front steps of the Historic County Courthouse in downtown Wichita, 15 same-sex couples proclaimed their love for one another and were legally married.

There were cheers of affirmation, but there also was opposition.

At the beginning of the mass ceremony, a man standing next to the clergy repeatedly shouted “God said no! God said no!”

The crowd of about 100 who were gathered to watch the ceremony chanted back “God said yes! God said yes!” as he continued to chant and was led away.

Some of those who opposed the ceremony played loud music. Supporters played equally loud music and then the organ music to Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus.”

Meanwhile on Monday, the Kansas Supreme Court was debating whether to authorize same-sex marriage licenses for the entire state.

The Kansas court was reviewing a petition from state Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who is hoping to block marriage licenses for same-sex couples until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on whether the state’s ban on gay marriage is constitutional. The state court discussed the case in a closed meeting Monday, and spokeswoman Lisa Taylor couldn’t say when it would issue a ruling.

A federal court already has stepped in because of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of two lesbian couples denied licenses in Douglas and Sedgwick counties. The U.S. Supreme Court last week refused to allow Kansas to enforce its gay-marriage ban while the federal case moves forward, and same-sex couples have obtained licenses in those two counties plus at least a handful of the state’s other 103 counties.

But state district court clerks, who issue marriage licenses in Kansas, were getting different orders in different parts of the state.

The chief judge for Butler, Elk and Greenwood counties in south-central Kansas said those counties would continue to deny marriage licenses for same-sex couples until he saw a court order “clearly and unequivocally” applying to them.

But his counterpart for Cherokee, Crawford and Labette counties in southeast Kansas directed that marriage licenses be issued to same-sex couples, because “there is no reason they should be required to wait longer.”

District court clerks in Ottawa and Saline counties are accepting applications for marriage licenses from same-sex couples but are not approving them.

In Sedgwick County, the attention Monday was on the mass wedding.

“This is the first time we have ever legally been able to marry,” said Jackie Carter, minister at the First Metropolitan Community Church. “I have done a bazillion of these holy unions and watched these people commit to live in honest and committed relationships – and they do.

“But this is the first time they are afforded all the civil rights that everybody else just gets when they get married.”

Travis Hooper and Dale Jones linked arms after the ceremony and lingered on the steps of the courthouse.

They said they have known each other for five years and were married in a union ceremony last year. On Monday, they married because it was legal to do so.

“And because we love each other,” Jones said. “It symbolizes for me that people finally recognize us as human beings and not subhuman.”

“We are finally recognized as equal,” Hooper said. “This is not about the word ‘marriage.’… We have been married for a year.

“This is about all those benefits that come with it, that a heterosexual couple can get just by signing a paper. If something happens to me, he can now have my pension. We can go in April and file our taxes together.”

Pat Munz and his partner, Mark Kahabka, watched as the 15 couples said their vows. Munz and Kahabka said they have been together for 28 years, 11 months and 17 days.

Munz said they are waiting for their 30th anniversary before they make their relationship legal. But the two wanted to show their support to those who did say their vows.

“I wanted to celebrate a historic day – something I thought I would never live long enough to see,” Munz said.

“I was in tears,” Kahabka said.

Clergy who participated were equally adamant about attending and participating in the ceremony.

“I did it because I am a supporter,” said Graylan Keefe, who attends Dellrose United Methodist and First Metropolitan Community Church and who was one of the readers in the ceremony.

“I did it because I am so supportive of equality and love for all.”

Contributing: Associated Press

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @beccytanner.

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