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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 14 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 07
Kentucky must recognize legal same-sex marriages, federal judge says
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Kentucky must recognize legal same-sex marriages, federal judge says

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, a federal judge ruled on February 12.

U.S. District Judge John G Heyburn II wrote in a 23-page decision that the state government could 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,' Heyburn continued.

Consequently, he found that Kentucky law treats 'gay and lesbian persons differently in a way that demeans them.'

In his opinion, Heyburn cited a long line of cases going back to the legalization of mixed-race marriages and mentioned recent same-sex marriage decisions in nine other states, including Hawaii and Utah. But his main arguments relied on the U.S. Supreme Court's 2013 ruling striking down a section of the DOMA, on which Kentucky's same-sex marriage amendment is based.

Heyburn also pointed to older rulings dealing with race and gender, noting that bans on interracial marriage, segregation, and restrictions on women had been cited in the past as keys to a more stable society. But courts gradually did away with those restrictions, he noted.

'Each of these small steps has led to this place and this time, where the right of same-sex spouses to state-conferred benefits of marriage is virtually compelled,' Heyburn wrote.

With Heyburn's ruling, Kentucky becomes one of 10 states where state or federal courts have reached similar conclusions about same-sex marriage bans. Heyburn was appointed to the federal bench by President George H. W. Bush.

The case was brought in July 2013 by four Gay and Lesbian couples seeking to force the state to recognize their out-of-state marriages.

It is still unclear if Kentucky will appeal the decision to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has never been asked to rule on whether a state must recognize a same-sex marriage from another state.

One of the plaintiffs in the case, 55-year-old Gregory Bourke of Louisville, said the only surprise was the speed with which the ruling came down.

'The word was it could happen any time and I wasn't prepared for it,' Bourke said. 'It's what we hoped for.'

Plaintiff Kim Franklin, who married Tamera Boyd in Connecticut in 2010, said the lawsuit and ruling make a statement that Kentucky is their home and gay and lesbian couples are welcome.

'It was important for us to say we love Kentucky, but we wanted this for all Kentuckians. This is our state,' Franklin said.

Shannon Fauver, the attorney for the couples seeking recognition, said the ruling applies the constitutional principle that religion cannot be imposed on citizens.

'In theory, same-sex and opposite sex couples should have the same rights,' Fauver said. 'We're so excited. Legally, I don't think he had a choice. He had to rule in our favor.'

'A lot of couples have been suffering in silence for a long time' in conservative states, said James Esseks, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project at the American Civil Liberties Union.

'Now they're looking around and saying, 'This is a problem for me, too,' and taking those problems to federal court looking for some justice.'

Even judges in conservative parts of the country are recognizing the significance of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Windsor case, Esseks added.

'It shows that this is no longer a movement that is focused on the coasts. It's a movement that's embracing all of America,' he said.

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