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Nov 13, 8:51 PM EST

Gay couples marry in Kansas despite legal fight


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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Gay couples across Kansas headed Thursday to county offices where judges granted marriage licenses and waived waiting periods after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for same-sex unions over the objections of the state's attorney general.

Despite a legal tangle involving the state Supreme Court, gay partners moved ahead with wedding plans. One couple married in front of the courthouse in Manhattan, Kansas.

"We got it!" Joleen Hickman said as she held up her marriage license to cheers, The Manhattan Mercury reported.

She and Darci Bohnenblust, her partner of 19 years, said their vows before the Rev. Caela Simmons Wood declared that "by the power of your love, and in the presence of all the witnesses gathered here today, and perhaps most importantly for this moment as recognized by the state of Kansas, I now pronounce that you are legally married."

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said Wednesday that a separate lawsuit he has filed with the state Supreme Court should prevent gay marriage in all but the two counties that were home to cases covered in the ruling from the nation's capital. But his office did not respond to questions Thursday as couples beyond Douglas and Sedgwick counties picked up marriage licenses.

Schmidt previously said it's his duty to exhaust all options to uphold the state's gay marriage ban, because voters overwhelmingly approved it in 2005.

Schmidt's lawsuit came after dozens of gay couples in a large suburban county on the Missouri border received marriage licenses last month. One couple was married and about 70 others received licenses before the lawsuit resulted in an order for officials there to stop.

The Kansas Supreme Court issued a statement Thursday announcing that it will begin deliberating gay marriage Monday, but couples and their supporters weren't waiting to see how that plays out.

Jackie Carter, pastor at First Metropolitan Community Church in Wichita, said a dozen couples applied for, or picked up, marriage licenses and plan to take part in a mass wedding Monday at Wichita's old city courthouse. Dozens more indicated they would be there, she said, adding that she wouldn't be surprised to see 100 to 150 people take part.

But as gay couples gained the right to marry in a handful of places, those in Johnson County - where the legal tangle came to a head after a U.S. Supreme Court decision Oct. 5 - were left to wait. Officials in that suburban Kansas City area said they would not move forward on the issue until the state Supreme Court ruled.

The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on Kansas was closely watched for whether justices would change their practice following last week's appellate ruling that upheld gay marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.

Those cases now are headed to the high court, meaning the gay marriage issue nationwide could be heard and decided by late June.

The U.S. Supreme Court last month declined to hear cases from three federal appeals courts that had overturned gay marriage bans and several states moved to adopt the practice. Same-sex unions are now legal in 32 states.

"I didn't think that I'd live long enough to see it happen in this state," said LuAnn Lewis, who picked up a license to marry her partner of seven years, according to The Topeka Capital-Journal.

Jess Penn and Shanon Fletcher applied for a marriage license at the Lyon County Courthouse, which refused to issue them a license last month, The Emporia Gazette reported.

"The elected officials in this state are working hard to block this yet again," Fletcher said. "But something that has held true my entire life is, `Love conquers all.' And eventually it will conquer here. Love will prevail over hate."

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Associated Press writers Roxana Hegeman in Wichita, Kansas, and Mark Sherman in Washington contributed to this report.

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