TOPEKA — A deafening cry of “FREEDOM” rang through the halls of the Kansas Statehouse on Friday morning as hundreds gathered to celebrate a U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing for same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
Those who had gathered in the Statehouse rotunda for a scheduled LGBT rights rally smiled, hugged one another and cheered raucously as speakers spoke of tribulations dating back a decade and the road ahead for LGBT equality.
“I am elated. This is a great day for gay and lesbian Kansans,” Thomas Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, told reporters before the rally.
Witt recalled being in the Statehouse in 2005 when legislators passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. He said his group will continue to fight for nondiscrimination laws and to protect the rights of gay students in the state’s schools.
“While today we celebrate with our LGBT brothers and sisters, the battle is not over,” said Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita. In February, Carmichael introduced H.B. 2323 to outlaw discrimination relating to sexual orientation and gender identity.
Carmichael and other speakers at the rally stood at a lectern draped in the rainbow flag that has become a symbol of the gay rights movement. Behind the speakers were three flags: an American flag that stood tallest, the gay rights flag a few inches shorter, and the state flag of Kansas shorter than both.
“Let this be a day of inspiration to go forward with the fight,” Carmichael added.
The cry of freedom came in response to civil rights attorney Pedro Irigonegaray’s speech and request for the coordinated yell.
“I want our scream of freedom to go all the way to the dome,” Irigonegaray said. “I want this statement to be heard in the governor’s office.”
Witt and Irigonegaray applauded the work of groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and activists in the crowd for bringing about change in the nation’s perception of same-sex marriage.
“Together, we make this American democratic experiment work,” Irigonegaray told the crowd.
Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas, said the Kansas Legislature continues to attack the rights and liberties of LGBT citizens in the state.
“This legislative session has been one long, relentless, sustained attack on equality and dignity,” Kubic said.
In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Friday morning that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the United States, knocking down bans in the 14 states where the practice remained banned.
“It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said in the majority opinion. “Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
Stephanie Mott, a transgender woman and LGBT right activist, called the high court’s ruling “amazing.”
“It’s wonderful that the love of all citizens is now recognized by our government,” Mott said. “It is sad that our governor does not understand the United States Constitution and the right of all people to equal protection under the law.”
Brownback slammed the Supreme Court ruling Friday, saying in a statement that “activist courts should not overrule the people of this state.”
Mott joined the speakers at Friday’s rally in warning that the high court’s ruling isn’t the end of the fight for gay rights in Kansas.
“You can now get married on Thursday and fired on Friday because it’s still legal to fire people for being LGBT in Kansas,” Mott said, adding that “it’s still very frightening” to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in the state.
“We’ve got a long way to go, but I’m a happy camper today,” Mott said.
Friday afternoon, a second rally kicked off outside the south side of the Statehouse. Around 100 people sang songs, chanted anti-Brownback tunes and celebrated the day’s news.
Planting Peace director David Hammet said the rally was “organically organized.”
“It was just an occasion for everyone to lock arms and show they disagree with the direction of the state under Brownback,” Hammet said.
Hammet said he was in a disciplinary hearing for Rep. Valdenia Winn on Friday morning when he heard news of the Supreme Court ruling.
“Once it ended I rushed out of there and went back to the house,” Hammet said, referring to the rainbow-colored Equality House across from the Westboro Baptist Church. “We’ve had people stopping by all day, out on the front lawn.”