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Marriage Equality Comes to Kansas's Biggest County

Marriage Equality Comes to Kansas's Biggest County

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Johnson County, the state's most populous, can now issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

The Kansas Supreme Court Tuesday lifted the hold it had placed on the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Johnson County, the most populous county in the state.

The court had previously blocked an order issued by the county's chief judge, Kevin Moriarty, in early October, shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a pro-marriage equality ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, which includes Kansas. Moriarty said Johnson County should immediately grant marriage licenses to gay couples because, he wrote at the time, "any case from Kansas ... brought before a federal court ... would be bound by the Tenth Circuit decision" and said that court would "no doubt" rule against Kansas's ban on same-sex marriage. The state's high court then put a stay on Moriarty's order, but not before one same-sex couple married in Johnson County, becoming the first to do so in all of Kansas.

In lifting the stay Tuesday, state Supreme Court justices said they would defer to federal courts on whether Kansas's ban violates the U.S. Constitution, the Associated Press reports. This month a U.S. district court ruled that the state's anti-equality law is indeed unconstitutional. State officials asked the U.S. Supreme Court to put that decision on hold, but it did so only for a short period, and last week same-sex couples began marrying in several Kansas counties. There are differences of opinion between the state's attorney general, Derek Schmidt, and the American Civil Liberties Union, representing the couples seeking marriage rights, on whether the federal court actions apply to all Kansas counties.

Schmidt vowed to go on fighting to preserve the marriage ban. "Because a provision in the Kansas Constitution is at peril, the state of Kansas will continue its defense in federal court as long as a defense is properly available," he said in a statement Tuesday, the AP reports.

Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, praised Tuesday's decision as "yet another step in the right direction toward full marriage equality." With Johnson County added to the list, now 19 of the state's 105 counties are licensing same-sex marriages. The Equality Kansas website and Facebook page are posting updates.

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