Politics & Government

Same-sex marriage licenses available in all Kansas counties – but other delays persist

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment updated marriage forms in November to accommodate same-sex couples, but held off on changing other policies.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment updated marriage forms in November to accommodate same-sex couples, but held off on changing other policies. File photo

TOPEKA — Same-sex couples can now obtain a marriage license in any Kansas county.

But they cannot get the same state benefits as heterosexual couples, including changing their last names on their driver’s licenses or adding spouses to their state health plans. State agencies have yet to update their policies to recognize same-sex marriages.

The Butler County District Court was among those instructing clerks Tuesday to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling Friday that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marriage.

All judicial districts in the state have said they will issue the licenses, according to Equality Kansas, a gay rights advocacy group.

Sedgwick County has issued marriage licenses to gay couples since November.

Gov. Sam Brownback instructed state agencies to hold off on changing policies in November after the state appealed a federal district court striking down Kansas’ same-sex marriage ban.

Spokeswomen for the Kansas Department of Revenue and Kansas Department of Health and Environment said Tuesday that the agencies are still reviewing Friday’s ruling.

That means that people who go into Kansas Division of Vehicles offices and ask to change their name to that of their same-sex spouse will continue to be denied, said Jeannine Koranda, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Revenue. The state also has yet to update its tax policy to allow same-sex couples to file jointly.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment updated marriage forms in November to accommodate same-sex couples, but held off on changing other policies.

The two biggest issues before the department are the impact to Medicaid eligibility and the state employee health plan. State employees in same-sex marriages have not yet been allowed to add their spouses as beneficiaries on their health plans.

Sara Belfry, KDHE’s spokeswoman, did not offer a timeline for when those issues would be resolved.

Thomas Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, called the delays unacceptable.

“It’s time to let people change the names on their driver’s licenses to their legal names,” Witt said. “These marriage certificates are legal documents issued by judges and courthouses and there is no reason to continue to ignore them other than to continue to deny gay and lesbian Kansans their constitutional rights.”

Witt forwarded an e-mail from a tax specialist with Department of Revenue saying that the agency is “waiting for the Governor to decide what (he) wants to do” before proceeding with any rules changes.

“It is inexplicable why the governor’s office is refusing to address this issue and order state agencies to honor people’s constitutional rights,” Witt said. “Absolutely inexplicable.”

Brownback has criticized the high court’s ruling, saying Friday that “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.”

The governor’s office – in language similar to the state agencies – said Tuesday that it was “in the process of reviewing the ruling.”

Supreme Court decisions typically take 25 days to go into effect and some states, such as Louisiana and Mississippi, have said they plan to wait.

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.

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