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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 21 - Volume 42 Issue 47
Marriages begin in South Carolina, controversy in Kansas, mess in Michigan 32 Washington organizations among grantees
Section One
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Marriages begin in South Carolina, controversy in Kansas, mess in Michigan 32 Washington organizations among grantees

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Gay and Lesbian couples began to marry in South Carolina on November 19 after the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals turned down the state's request for a stay. The U.S. Supreme Court also declined to issue a stay on November 20.

Meanwhile Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt tried desperately to prevent county clerks in his state from issuing licenses to same-sex couples, in spite of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling denying a stay of the lower court decision striking down the Kansas marriage ban.

In Michigan some 300 couples found the validity of their marriages in doubt after a Sixth Circuit Court ruling upheld marriage bans in four states.

Kayla Bennett and Kristin Anderson were the first to marry in South Carolina, holding their marriage ceremony right outside the Charleston County Probate Court.

Probate Judge Irvin Condon announced he will be issuing licenses to those Gay and Lesbian couples who applied before Condon was ordered to stop issuing the licenses on October 9.

Charleston County councilwoman Colleen Condon and her fiancée, Nichols Bleckley, were the first in line to receive a marriage license, although not the first ones to actually wed.

Condon and Bleckley were the plaintiffs in the case that overturned South Carolina's ban on same-sex marriages, and they celebrated the victory on behalf of all Gay and Lesbian couples.

'I do hope that every parent, teacher takes a moment today to explain to kids what's going on and how historic this moment is,' said Bleckley.

'We knew this was never about just the two of us,' said Condon. 'We wanted it for us, but we knew that we were a part of hundreds, thousands in South Carolina who were ready to get married right away.'

The Fourth Circuit set the stage for marriages to begin in South Carolina on November 18, when it rejected the state Attorney General's request to stay a federal district court decision striking down the state's ban on same-sex marriage. The district judge ruled on the basis of the Fourth Circuit's decision striking a similar law in Virginia.

The plaintiffs' attorneys greeted the Fourth Circuit ruling with relief.

'This is a great victory for same-sex couples and their families because it removes one more hurdle to finally walking down the aisle,' said Beth Littrell, Senior Attorney in Lambda Legal's Southern Regional Office based in Atlanta.

'We urge the Attorney General to stop trying to delay the inevitable - their actions are damaging to families they were elected to protect,' said South Carolina Equality lawyer Malissa Burnette.

KANSAS
In Kansas, six of the state's 105 counties are issuing same-sex marriage licenses, two are taking applications for the licenses but not issuing them, others are outright refusing requests by Gay and Lesbian couples, but most of them seem to be awaiting further instructions.

A federal district court struck down the state's ban on same sex marriage on November 4. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotormayor granted the state a temporary stay, but the full Supreme Court later withdrew the stay, allowing marriages to go forward.

However, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt told county clerks that they could not issue licenses until the state Supreme Court also ruled on the issue. His office told reporters that he asked the state court 'to provide further guidance to the district courts in light of the federal preliminary injunction.'

'We are awaiting a decision on this case,' the Attorney General's spokesperson said.

In spite of the attorney general's efforts, Gay and Lesbian couples began marrying November 17 in Topeka, and 15 couples married in a mass ceremony on the steps of Sedgwick County Courthouse in Wichita. A judge also ordered that couples be allowed to get married in Cherokee, Crawford, and Labette counties.

MICHIGAN
In Michigan, the Sixth Circuit decision upholding marriage bans in the four states under its jurisdiction (Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee) cast doubt on some 300 same-sex marriages.

The marriages were performed by county clerks on March 22, a day after U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman struck down the state's same-sex marriage ban.

The Sixth Circuit Court issued a stay on marriages later the same day, but not until some 300 couples had completed the steps to be married.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said the couples will not have state recognition of their marriages or the benefits that go with it. The subsequent Sixth Circuit decision in the case reversed Judge Friedman's decision striking Michigan's marriage ban, thus upholding Michigan's same-sex marriage ban, and now lawyers for the state say that those 300 couples were never legally married.

'Consequently, from a legal standpoint, because the marriages rested solely on the district court's erroneous decision, which has now been reversed, it is as if the marriages never existed, and Plaintiffs' requests for benefits attendant to a legal marriage must be denied,' lawyers for the state wrote in court documents.

The Sixth Circuit decision has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the high court has not yet said it would hear the case. In the meantime, the Michigan marriages are being recognized by the federal government but not by the state.

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Montana marriage ban falls, couples marry
Judge rejects Baker v. Nelson precedent

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