Kentucky same-sex marriage: Same-sex marriage now legally recognized in Commonwealth

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A federal judge on Thursday signed an order directing officials in Kentucky to immediately recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries.

U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II issued a final order throwing out part of the state's ban on gay marriages. It makes official his Feb. 12 ruling that Kentucky's ban on same-sex marriages treated "gay and lesbian persons differently in a way that demeans them."

Same-sex couples may change their names on official identifications and documents and obtain any other benefits of a married couple in Kentucky. The order doesn't affect a related lawsuit seeking to force the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The order came just hours after the Kentucky's attorney general asked for a 90-day delay. The two-page filing says the delay is sought to give that office time to decide whether to appeal the Feb. 12 ruling and would give the state an opportunity to prepare to implement the order.

Heyburn's final order did not mention the request for a stay and he had not ruled on it as of mid-afternoon Thursday.

Earlier this month, Heyburn concluded that the ban, which has been in place since 2004, treated "gay and lesbian persons differently in a way that demeans them."

Dawn Elliott, an attorney for one of the couples pursuing recognition of a marriage performed in Canada, praised the ruling.

"It's a great day to be from the Commonwealth of Kentucky," Elliott said. "I hope that the attorney general and governor that I voted for, don't jump on the appeal bandwagon."

The order means same-sex couples are allowed change their names on official identifications and documents and obtain any other benefits of married couples in Kentucky. Heyburn's ruling doesn't affect a related lawsuit seeking to force the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Final briefings in the marriage license case are due to Heyburn by May 28.

It was unclear if or how many people would seek to immediately take advantage of the rights recognized in the rulings. Elliott and co-counsel Shannon Fauver said their clients were considering doing so Thursday afternoon, but had not decided.

Nore Ghibaudy, a spokesman for the Jefferson County Clerk of Court, said until the state issues a directive notifying clerks of the legal change, no same-sex name changes or other legal documents will be issued.

"We have to follow the law until we hear otherwise," Ghibaudy said. "Whatever it is, we'd have no problem doing it."

Allison Martin, a spokeswoman for Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, said the office was reviewing the ruling and would have a statement later Thursday.

The decision in the socially conservative state comes against the backdrop of similar rulings or actions in other states where same-sex couples have long fought for the right to marry. Kentucky's constitutional ban was approved by voters in 2004 and included the out-of-state clause.

On Wednesday, a federal judge in Texas struck down that state's gay marriage ban but immediately delayed the implementation of his ruling pending appeals by the state.

The Kentucky ruling came in lawsuits brought by four gay and lesbian couples seeking to force the state to recognize their out-of-state marriages.

The proposed order only requires Kentucky to recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples performed in other states or countries. It does not deal with whether the state can be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Martin Cothran, a senior policy analyst for the Family Foundation of Kentucky, criticized Attorney General Jack Conway's handling of the case, accusing him of "spiking" the state's defense by not making persuasive arguments to keep the ban in place.

"The Attorney General's office was clearly not intending to do its job. It only did what it was supposed to do after someone shed light on the fact that he was about to take one more action that favored those who are trying to disenfranchise Kentucky voters on the issue of marriage," Cothran said.

Laura Landenwich, an attorney representing several of the couples who sued, said now that marriages must be recognized, state employees will have to adjust to the ruling.

"It'll be interesting to see what happens," Landenwich said.

In his 23-page ruling issued Feb. 12, Heyburn concluded that the government may define marriage and attach benefits to it but cannot "impose a traditional or faith-based limitation" without a sufficient justification for it."

"Assigning a religious or traditional rationale for a law does not make it constitutional when that law discriminates against a class of people without other reasons," wrote Heyburn, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush.

Heyburn’s ruling in Kentucky is among rulings by six federal judges concerning same-sex marriages that have been made in light of a Supreme Court decision in June. That decision struck down a federal anti-gay marriage law but left to the lower courts the job of applying the high

court’s decision.

Besides the Kentucky and Texas rulings, federal judges in Virginia, Oklahoma, Utah and Ohio have issued rulings concerning same-sex marriages.

On Feb. 13 a federal judge ruled as unconstitutional Virginia’s voter-approved ban of same-sex marriages because it violated the due process and equal protection of the 14th Amendment.

In a ruling striking down Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriages, a federal judge ruled on Jan. 14 the ban violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause because it precludes same-sex couples from receiving an Oklahoma marriage license.

A federal judge in Utah ruled on Dec. 20 that a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages was unconstitutional because it denied due process and equal protection guaranteed under the 14th Amendment.

A Dec. 23 ruling in Ohio by U.S. District Judge Timothy Black focused on whether the state has the right not to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages. His ruling held that Ohio must recognize valid out-of-state marriages between same-sex couples on Ohio death certificates, just as Ohio recognizes all other out-of-state marriages. In his ruling, the judge wrote “once you get married lawfully in one state, another state cannot summarily take your marriage away.”

While gays and lesbians may count the recent rulings as victories, still same-sex marriages are banned in most states. Thirty-three states, among them Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, ban same-sex marriages. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage and 10 recognize civil unions and/or other same sex partnerships.

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