Politics & Government

Kansas agencies not recognizing same-sex marriages despite court rulings

Gay residents pick up applications for marriage licenses at the Sedgwick County Courthouse on Thursday after the Supreme Court lifted the hold on same-sex marriage in Kansas on Wednesday. (Nov. 13, 2014)
Gay residents pick up applications for marriage licenses at the Sedgwick County Courthouse on Thursday after the Supreme Court lifted the hold on same-sex marriage in Kansas on Wednesday. (Nov. 13, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

Although same-sex couples can legally marry in Kansas after a string of court decisions, state agencies are not offering them the same treatment as newly married heterosexual couples.

State offices will not change their policies while the state appeals the federal ruling that overturned Kansas’ ban on same-sex marriage, the governor’s office said Wednesday.

For example, gay and lesbian Kansans can’t change their last names to that of their spouse on their driver’s licenses.

People who go into Division of Vehicles offices and request the change are being turned away, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Revenue confirmed Wednesday.

“There are still cases under appeal in the courts, and the department will not do anything different until those are resolved,” said spokeswoman Jeannine Koranda in an e-mail.

Koranda said this policy would apply to all of the agency’s services, such as income tax filings.

Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, an LGBT rights organization, said it was outrageous for state agencies to not treat legally married same-sex couples the same as they would newly married heterosexual couples.

“These are legal marriages legally performed in the state of Kansas,” Witt said.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt told the Associated Press on Wednesday that his vigorous defense of the state’s gay marriage ban is designed to get a final U.S. Supreme Court ruling on whether such bans are constitutional.

Everyone is best served by a definitive ruling from the high court, he said. Without such a ruling, uncertainty will remain about whether gay marriage is legal throughout the state and whether gay couples’ unions will remain legally valid.

During the last legislative session, the Kansas House passed a bill that would have allowed public employees to refuse to serve same-sex couples on religious grounds. The bill caused international controversy and hit a dead stop in the Senate.

Witt accused the Brownback administration of acting as though the failed bill had become law.

“What’s clear is that the Brownback administration has decided even with the denial of service legislation having failed this year they’re going to act like it’s in place anyway just because they have a political axe to grind,” Witt said.

Eileen Hawley, the governor’s spokeswoman, said there was pending litigation on the legality of same-sex marriage and that all state agencies would “take the necessary legal actions once this issue is resolved.”

The state’s ban on same-sex marriage was ruled unconstitutional by a federal district court judge earlier this month, which gave the green light to Sedgwick and Douglas counties to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Other counties followed suit and this week the Kansas Supreme Court lifted a stay on same-sex marriage in Johnson County.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt is appealing the federal ruling and the Kansas Supreme Court will revisit the issue after the federal case is resolved.

The Department of Health and Environment, which was a named defendant in the federal case, has updated marriage license forms to accommodate same-sex couples.

Witt said that same-sex couples might be forced to sue other agencies in order to receive equal treatment when they file their taxes, for example.

“As long as the state continues to deny people their civil rights, then we’re going to have to litigate it, and that’s really on (Attorney General) Derek Schmidt and Gov. Brownback to decide how much taxpayer money they’re going to burn,” he said.

Schmidt has contended that the federal ruling applied to only Sedgwick and Douglas counties. But as of Wednesday, couples had been able to obtain marriage licenses in 19 counties, according to Witt.

The Kansas Supreme Court order clearly states that couples can use marriage licenses obtained in any county across the state.

Contributing: Associated Press

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

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