Moral Low Ground

US Government

LGBT Marriage Equality Victories in Kansas, South Carolina

Two men kiss at a 2013 marriage equality rally in Washington, DC. (Photo: Elvert Barnes)

Two men kiss at a 2013 marriage equality rally in Washington, DC. (Photo: Elvert Barnes)

Same-Sex Marriages Begin after US Supreme Court Lifts Kansas Stay; Federal Judge Overturns South Carolina Ban

The seemingly inexorable march toward nationwide same-sex marriage equality continued this week, with Kansas becoming the 33rd state to legalize gay marriage and a federal judge striking down South Carolina’s ban.

The United States Supreme Court on Wednesday lifted a temporary stay preventing same-sex marriages from proceeding in Kansas, the Topeka Capital-Journal reports.

A day earlier, US District Judge Daniel Crabtree, an Obama appointee, issued a 38-page ruling declaring the state’s voter-approved constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage to be a violation of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection under the law.

Crabtree issued a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of Kansas’ discriminatory law. But state Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, appealed the decision. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor then issued a temporary stay to allow the nation’s highest court time to consider the issue.

The plaintiffs in the case, two same-sex couples represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, successfully argued that there was no reason to treat Schmidt’s request differently from those made by officials in Idaho and Alaska. Both of those states’ stay requests were denied, clearing the way for same-sex marriages to proceed there.

“Now, they are equal citizens with everybody else, and they can exercise their rights to get married,” said ACLU lawyer Doug Bonney, who represented the two couples.

Same-sex couples across Kansas rushed to marry in the wake of the Supreme Court decision. In Topeka, the capital, LuAnn Lewis was the first to submit her application for a marriage license.

“It feels pretty good,” Lewis, who would marry her partner of seven years,told the Capital-Journal. “I didn’t think that I’d live long enough to see it happen in this state. I’m glad I had the opportunity to come up here today.”

But not everyone was pleased with the imminent prospect of marriage equality in the Sunflower State.

“Nearly 10 years ago, 70 percent of Kansans voted in favor of the Marriage Protection Amendment, which I authored, a vote destroyed today by the seven Supreme Court justices who refused to grant a stay,” lamented US Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a Republican.

“I personally feel that this is not only a moral issue, but that an even a bigger issue at hand is the fact that state’s rights are being overridden by a handful of judges rather than letting the people of Kansas speak,” conservative Wichita pastor Terry Fox told the Capital-Journal.

Even as they celebrated the state’s landmark civil rights victory, some LGBT advocates cautioned that there was still work to be done, namely legislation to protect sexual minorities from job termination and other discrimination. Kansas is one of 29 states where individuals can be fired from their jobs for being gay.

“You can get married and then you can get fired for getting married,” Topeka transgender equality advocate Stephanie Mott told the Capital-Journal.

Meanwhile, also on Wednesday, US District Judge Richard Gergel struck down South Carolina’s gay marriage ban as an unconstitutional violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. In 1996, the state legislature voted 82-0 to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, a law affirmed by a voter-approved state constitutional amendment nine years later.

Gergel’s ruling will not take effect until next week in order to allow the state time to appeal. State Attorney General Alan Wilson, a Republican, said he would appeal.

“Today’s ruling comes as no surprise and does not change the constitutional obligation of this Office to defend South Carolina law, including, but not necessarily limited to, appeal to the Fourth Circuit,” Wilson said in a statement.

South Carolina same-sex couples were jubilant, despite the prospect of appeal.

“We’re ecstatic,” Colleen Condon, 44, told Reuters. Condon and fiancée Nichols Bleckley, 43, filed the lawsuit heard by Gergel after being denied a marriage license in Charleston last month.

“I’m just thrilled,” Bleckley told WCBD after Gergel’s ruling. “I’m very proud of my state. I’m proud of everyone who has reached out to us and given us love and told us to keep fighting.”

As in Kansas, equality foes vowed to fight to prevent same-sex citizens from marrying who they love. Oran Smith, CEO of the conservative Christian group Palmetto Family Council, pointed to the recent decision by the Sixth Circuit Court upholding gay marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee as proof that the battle against LGBT marriage equality is not over.

“We officially have now what we’ve never had before and that is a circuit split,” Smith told WJBF. “So… the Supreme Court clearly could still take this case. So we would like to see that happen. Then we would truly know that it had reached the highest court in the land.”

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