- Associated Press - Saturday, October 11, 2014

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas judge who cleared the way for a gay marriage in the state’s most populous county says he doesn’t regret his action and is taking issue with critics who lambast his fellow jurists for his decision.

Chief Judge Kevin Moriarty’s administrative order in Johnson County District Court directed fellow judges and court clerks to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. The court clerk’s office issued one Friday morning, but hours later, the Kansas Supreme Court blocked any additional same-sex marriage licenses.

The Kansas Constitution bans gay marriage, but Moriarty’s order noted court decisions striking down similar bans in other states and the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal Monday to hear appeals from five such states. With Kansas receiving national attention - and its courts criticized by conservatives - Moriarty responded in a statement Friday, an unusual move for a judge.

“I made a decision on same sex marriage based upon my understanding of the law. I do not regret my decision,” Moriarty said in his statement. “What I do regret is that my decision has caused other Judges in Johnson County and Kansas to be unfairly labeled by some individuals who do not agree with this decision.”

The 61-year-old Moriarty is an Overland Park resident and former county prosecutor who was appointed to the bench in 2004 by then Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

In a 2008 case, he concluded that a woman who’d split from her lesbian partner still had the right to help raise their two children, though the ex-partner was the biological mother - a conclusion the Kansas Supreme Court affirmed in 2013. Tom Witt, executive director of the gay-rights group Equality Kansas, said because of the earlier case, Moriarty’s decision on same-sex marriage was perhaps not a surprise.

“He already has a judicial record of saying lesbian and gay couples should be treated fairly,” Witt said.

The Johnson County newlyweds, Kelli and Angela, asked to be identified only by their first names to help protect their privacy, but did agree to allow a photograph of them after the ceremony to be used. In a statement released through Equality Kansas, they said they wanted to celebrate privately.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback decried the possibility that the state constitution’s ban on gay marriage - approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2005 - might be overturned by “activist judges.” Senate President Susan Wagle, a conservative Wichita Republican and Brownback ally, suggested Moriarty wanted to set up a legal challenge.

Moriarty acknowledged that his decision had not been accepted by other judges across the state, or even in Johnson County. But he said he has “tremendous respect for them and their commitment to following the law.”

Eight of the county’s 19 district judges were appointed by Sebelius, six by Brownback and the remaining five by previous Republican governors. Moriarty said Brownback had made “very wise choices.”

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna

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