Kansas extends some benefits to married same-sex couples

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Kansas is allowing married gay and lesbian residents to change their names on driver’s licenses and is having the health insurance plan for state workers offer coverage to their same-sex spouses, officials said July 7.

But the state has not yet altered other policies affecting gay and lesbian couples in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last month legalizing same-sex marriage across the nation.

Kansas banned same-sex marriage and did not recognize such marriages from other states, reinforcing those long-standing policies with an amendment to the state constitution overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2005. However, court clerks in all 105 counties were granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples as of last week.

The state employees’ health plan began taking applications July 7 from married gay and lesbian workers seeking coverage for their spouses, said Sara Belfry, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Environment. The agency administers the health plan, which will have a special, 31-day enrollment period for same-sex couples, she said.

State driver’s license offices allowed married gay and lesbian couples to change their licenses as of Monday, said Jeannine Koranda, a spokeswoman for the Department of Revenue.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback faced criticism last week from gay rights advocates because he said his administration was reviewing the ramifications of the Supreme Court’s June 26 ruling. The conservative governor has been a vocal supporter of the state’s policy against gay marriage.

“It’s about time,” said Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, the state’s leading gay rights group. “It didn’t feel fast to a lot of us who’ve been in this fight for years and years and years.”

Belfry said the state employees’ health plan covers about 104,000 people. She said the state doesn’t have an estimate for how much the figure will grow because gay and lesbian workers’ spouses can be covered.

However, the Department of Revenue is not yet allowing married same-sex couples to file joint income tax returns. The agency’s stance prompted two gay couples married in other states to file a lawsuit in Shawnee County District Court in 2013, and the case is still pending.

Koranda said the department is reviewing all of its policies, and “there are a lot of moving parts.”

“We’re just trying to make sure we don’t miss anything,” she said.

Witt said the agency simply needs to accept joint returns from married gay couples.

“There’s nothing to sort out,” he said.

Also, the Department for Children and Families is reviewing its adoption policies, said spokeswoman Theresa Freed. Its policies allow gays and lesbians to adopt children in state custody as individuals, but not as couples.

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