The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday struck down bans against same-sex marriage as unconstitutional, legalizing marriages nationwide.
Gay couples in Wichita and across the nation celebrated, and some states issued marriage licenses for the first time.
“We are ecstatic that everyone will finally have the right to marry the person that they love and that equality will prevail, not only in Kansas but in the U.S,” said Kerry Wilks of Wichita, who had been suing Kansas for the right to marry.
Others saw the historic 5-4 decision as an assault on traditional heterosexual marriage and decried it as an improper infringement on state and voter rights, and on their religious beliefs.
“It took the runaway courts to impose something upon us that we did not want,” said Terry Fox, a minister at Summit Church and a leading proponent of the state’s 2005 voter-approved ban on gay marriage, which is now void.
Both sides looked beyond the ruling, with one calling for anti-discrimination laws for gay people and the other seeking laws to protect the religious views of those who see gay marriage as sinful.
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority of the court.
The challengers “ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
The four dissenting justices said states and their voters should have been left with the power to decide who can marry.
“This court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote.
Gov. Sam Brownback echoed that perspective in a statement: “Activist courts should not overrule the people of this state, who have clearly supported the Kansas Constitution’s definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman.”
His office and the state attorney general’s office said they were reviewing the opinion to determine its impact.
More than 400 gay couples have registered for marriage licenses in Kansas since a lower court ruling last fall and four have filed for divorce, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
But some counties did not issue marriage licenses. And some state agencies did not recognize the unions. The Division of Vehicles, for example, declined requests from gay and lesbian Kansans to change their last names to that of their spouse on their driver’s licenses.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Revenue said Friday that it is reviewing that policy.
Reno County Chief Judge Patricia Macke Dick said her county would begin issuing marriage licenses after denying the requests of two gay couples earlier while it waited for a definitive court ruling. “I think the Supreme Court was completely clear in their findings,” she said.
State and federal politicians said they would pursue new laws in response to the ruling.
U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who sought the 2005 ban in Kansas when he was a state senator, said he would push at the federal level to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman and to “protect the religious liberties of Americans and ensure the government cannot coerce us to participate in ceremonies contrary to the tenets of our faiths.”
Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle said state lawmakers need to make sure that Kansas residents who personally oppose gay marriage are not required to perform same-sex weddings or participate in them.
Lawmakers considered such a measure last year, but it drew strong protests from gay rights advocates and some business leaders and stalled in the Senate.
Fox said he would meet with other ministers to talk about pushing for a religious freedom law.
The Catholic bishops of Kansas issued a statement saying they were deeply disappointed by the decision. “While the government may control the issuing of marriage certificates, marriage remains unchangeably a coming together of the male and the female for their good, the good of children, and the good of society. This reality cannot be altered by legislator or judge,” they said.
Matthew Vines, a Wichitan who is the founder of the Reformation Project, said the ruling is the beginning of a much longer effort to change the minds of people who don’t support gay rights.
But he thinks it could help accelerate the work he does trying to convince churches to support the LGBT community.
“Now churches that have never had this conversation openly will increasingly have gay members come out and want to have their marriages recognized in their churches,” said Vines, who was in San Francisco to speak at Google and at the main stage for Gay Pride week.
The staff at Rain Cafe and Lounge hugged and cheered when they saw the announcement on TV as they prepared to open Friday morning, said Austin Van Pielt, 31, the general manager. He and his partner Garett, 30, have been together seven years and plan to get married now.
“It’s not something we’re going to run out today and go do it,” Van Pielt said. “Honestly, we’re basically married. We’ve grown up with marriage not being allowed for gays, so we’re just kind of like, we don’t have to put a label on it. But we will in time.”
Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, led a rally at the Capitol on Friday that drew more than 200 people in support of gay rights and other progressive causes.
“I was here when we lost 10 years ago,” he said, referring to the 2005 vote on a constitutional amendment. “To be here at the moment when they overturn the state ban is a great moment.”
But the battle isn’t over in Kansas, he said. “The immediate need is to persuade our state government to remove all barriers to recognizing same-sex marriage. That could be a struggle or they may just see that this is not going to get them anything in the long run and just go ahead without us continuing to have to sue them.”
He said there’s also still work to be done to ensure gay people’s employment rights, along with equal treatment of gay and lesbian students who face harassment and bullying at school.
State Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, said a bill that would outlaw discrimination against gays, House Bill 2323, has not received a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee. He said he’s hopeful that it will get one when the Legislature returns for a new annual session in January.
June 26 is the same day that two other famous Supreme Court rulings that expanded rights for gay citizens were announced: Lawrence v Texas and Windsor v U.S.
“June 26 might be a day that we party from now on,” said Chris Tyson, 48, who helped set up an Equality Kansas news conference in Wichita. He would not say which service profession he was in or appear on video, because he is afraid he could lose his job.
“In the service industry we deal with customers and a lot of time employers don’t want to offend their customers,” Tyson said. “We’re not protected.”
‘You’ve changed me’
Wilks, who challenged the Kansas law in a separate case, said she thought the Supreme Court ruling would be favorable. But she was nervous waiting for the decision. “So there was this sense of elation when it happened and then I didn’t have time to feel anything because I saw my phone just kept blowing up.”
She said she expects the judge in her case to issue an immediate ruling in her case.
Wilks and Donna DiTrani, her partner, have already held a marriage celebration. They said they weren’t going to plan anything else for their legal marriage. But DiTrani’s boss gave her the day off and, she said, one of her conservative colleagues at work came up to her and told her, “You’ve changed me.”
Early Friday evening, dozens of people gathered at Old Town Square to celebrate the court’s decision.
Wesley Vahsholtz, 23, rode his bike to the a rally organized by Equality Kansas on Friday evening.
He had not been following the news closely but after he heard about the ruling he decided to seek out the rally.”
“I was completely unaware until today,” he said, adding that he supports the decision. “People should be free to love who they want. It’s not so much about sex as it is about the feelings you have for someone. It’s way more than just the outside, really.”
Contributing: Associated Press; Dave Helling of the Kansas City Star; Dion Lefler, Stan Finger and Matt Reidl of The Eagle
What they said
“I’m trying to breathe. … Now we can live anywhere in the U.S. and be a legally married couple, even if I am transferred. … You can’t always pick and choose where you live. My family doesn’t have to worry anymore.” – Matthew Mansell, who with his spouse, Johno Espejo, was among the plaintiffs
“The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times. The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning.” — Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority on the Supreme Court
“The court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the states and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are?” – Chief Justice John Roberts, writing in dissent of the ruling
“There’s so much more work to be done to extend the full promise of America to every American. But today, we can say in no uncertain terms that we’ve made our union a little more perfect.” – President Obama
“By imposing their personal biases on all of America, these five attorneys have declared the votes of 50 Million Americans, including the 417,627 Kansans who voted to adopt my Marriage Protection Amendment, null and void. True marriage is between one man and one woman – no Court can change that truth.” U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler
“That’s amazing news. It’s life-changing for so many people.” — Jackie Carter, pastor of First Metropolitan Community Church, who has received death threats for performing same-sex marriages at her church in Wichita
“Today’s ruling strikes a blow to inequality and discrimination throughout the nation, and that’s good for Americans’ mental health.” – Renee Binder, president of the American Psychiatric Association, which in 1973 removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders