It will be a moment when the lyrics of this classic Woody Guthrie song fit perfectly. In June, the same month that we celebrate LGBT Pride, we expect to hear the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality in all 50 states.
Randy Hite, a local LGBT activist, held a rally April 28 on Kansas City’s Plaza to celebrate when the Supreme Court began listening to oral arguments. He and others are planning a rally, possibly at the J.C. Nichols Fountain, when we hear the final SCOTUS decision. We will post details of any rally at www.campkc.com and the Facebook page for Camp Kansas City as soon as we know them.
As we wait for the marriage equality decision, we asked two of our LGBT rights groups — in Kansas and Missouri — to share their thoughts on what we might expect post-decision. Here are the responses from A.J. Bockelman and Thomas Witt.
Assuming that the court will uphold marriage equality, Bockelman, PROMO’s executive director, said:
Once the decision comes down, we ask the governor and Attorney General’s Office to swiftly implement the decision. That means all the state departments and offices must recognize the legal benefits of marriage. Many departments already are, due to the cases last fall out of Kansas City and St. Louis. However, not all license offices are issuing marriage certificates to couples at this time.
Looking to the future, the work at PROMO goes on just as it has for several decades, looking to ensure basic protections in employment, housing and public accommodations are secured. Additionally our public policy program will continue to do cultural competency trainings and updates in public policy, particularly in the realm of health care, impacting the gay and transgender communities.
Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, expects the justices to uphold marriage equality:
Marriage equality is coming. For some in Kansas, it’s already here. As of this writing, 61 of our 105 counties are granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Our most populous counties are among the 61, making marriage equality (almost) a reality for 2.4 million of Kansas’ 2.9 million residents.
I say “almost” a reality because, sadly, the State of Kansas under Gov. Brownback is determined to treat us as second-class citizens for as long as Brownback and his allies can get away with it. His administration has ordered the Department of Motor Vehicles not to process name changes on driver’s licenses, the Department of Revenue not to accept income tax filings from same-sex couples, and that there be no access to health insurance for spouses and their children.
The LGBT community may marry in 61 Kansas counties and have those marriages recognized by the federal government, by our friends, by our families, but every state agency outside those 61 courthouses treats us as legal strangers.
The fact that we may marry at all is the outcome of complex legal maneuvering in Kansas and federal courts since the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit struck down marriage equality bans in Utah and Oklahoma. In October 2014, the Supreme Court refused to hear those states’ appeal, and the 10th Circuit, which includes Kansas, refused to stay their order. The morning of Oct. 10, the first lesbian couple wed in Kansas. Within three hours, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt rushed to the Kansas Supreme Court, which halted marriages for four weeks. In mid-November, the justices told local Kansas courts that it was their decision on how to follow the 10th Circuit ruling, lifted their injunction, and allowed marriages to proceed.
This spring, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in marriage equality cases from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which includes Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. The Sixth Circuit is the only appellate court to uphold state equality bans, causing a split between rulings and forcing the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court.
We expect the ruling in the case, Obergefell v. Hodges, to be handed down in late June. We are confident and hopeful that the long fight to marriage equality will end in victory, just in time for Pride celebrations across the nation.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling for equality should put the matter to rest, but we are, after all, still in Kansas. The right-wing ideologues who control our state government will not give in on their campaign of discrimination and unfair treatment of LGBT Kansans.
In February, Brownback rescinded the Kathleen Sebelius-era executive order protecting LGBT State of Kansas employees from discrimination in the workplace. In every year since 2011, Brownback cronies have introduced so-called “religious freedom” bills that would have overtly legalized discrimination against our community. Every year, Equality Kansas has worked with our allies in the legislature to block final passage. There is a bill currently on hold in the Kansas House of Representatives that would allow college campus student organizations to control membership, including individual behavior, based on “religious beliefs.”
These attacks will not stop with the passage of full marriage equality. If anything, they will intensify, as the old guard of intolerance, bigotry and discrimination continues to lose the right to treat us as second-class citizens. Their backs are to the wall. They are losing this fight in the Kansas courts, in the U.S. courts, and in the most important court of all: the court of public opinion. Even in Kansas, polling shows that those who believe in discrimination instead of equality are now in the minority.
We are on the cusp of a great victory for our community, but we must remain vigilant. Those who believe we deserve no freedom and no equality are not going to give up and quietly go away.
We must be ready to stand for our rights and continue the fight.