Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Same-Sex Marriage Hostility Rages on ; Marriage: Past Events Shape Future

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Same-Sex Marriage Hostility Rages on ; Marriage: Past Events Shape Future

Article excerpt

After a federal court hearing Friday and an upcoming state Supreme Court hearing this next week, Kansas stands on the edge of legalized same-sex marriage. The moment has been more than a decade in the making and comes after a bitter battle 10 years ago over the state's gay marriage ban, shifting public attitudes, and judicial action across the country.

Now, with gays and lesbians likely to gain the ability to marry in Kansas sooner rather than later, activists on both sides in the state are looking toward the future as new battle lines are drawn.

The ban

The current rapid advance of same-sex marriage throughout the United States hasn't always been so rapid. In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution didn't allow for gay couples to be denied the right to marry. Despite that early legal victory for same-sex marriage proponents, Hawaii would later amend its state constitution to keep its prohibition on same-sex marriage in place.

Marriage between one man and one woman was codified in federal law in the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. A 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down part of the law would pave the way for a wave of challenges to state bans on same-sex marriage.

Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex marriage in 2004. That same year several states also moved in the opposite direction, passing bans on same-sex marriages.

Enter Kansas. Kansas lawmakers debated a constitutional ban during the 2004 legislative session. That measure failed, according to Topeka Capital-Journal archives, after 10 House members switched their votes and defeated it.

In the wake of the failed effort, Terry Fox, a conservative Wichita pastor, led an effort to put the ban before voters.

"It required us getting involved in making sure that many legislators would be replaced so that the people in Kansas could have the right to define marriage," Fox said in an interview this past week. "And what was astonishing to me was the Legislature themselves would not allow the people themselves to speak."

Fox and other pastors marshaled a coalition in support of the ban. When the Legislature came back in 2005, the result was much different. Lawmakers approved a constitutional amendment early in the session, with the House voting 86-37 and the Senate voting 28- 11.

The original 2004 debate grabbed the attention of Thomas Witt, who is gay and at the time worked in information technology.

"Their rhetoric was incredibly discriminatory and hateful. These were people who were making it clear that they believed gay and lesbian relationships weren't real, that we didn't deserve to have equal rights in marriage or in things like employment," Witt said.

By 2005, Witt -- who currently leads the Kansas Equality Coalition -- had become an activist working against the reinvigorated effort to pass a constitutional ban. But opponents were ultimately outmatched by a large margin at the polls. Voters approved the constitutional amendment 70 percent to 30 percent in the April 2005 vote.

Nationwide battle

For the next few years, the outlook for same-sex marriage opponents appeared somewhat grim. While a few states created domestic partnership registries and allowed civil unions, more states continued to pass bans prohibiting same-sex marriage.

But as the decade came to an end, momentum began to shift in the proponents' direction. The Obama administration decided in 2010 that it would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court. In 2011, New York began allowing same-sex marriage. And in 2012 several other states also began allowing same-sex marriage.

In June 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of DOMA. In the months that followed, judges began to rule more consistently against same-sex marriage bans. …

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