Herald-Leader Editorial

Judge right to reject gay marriage ban

February 13, 2014 

A constitutional amendment was put to Kentuckians 10 years ago that turned out social conservative voters for President George W. Bush's re-election and helped other Republican candidates.

Now a federal judge appointed by President George H. W. Bush has struck down that amendment.

U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II said Kentucky's ban on recognizing same-sex marriages is unconstitutional discrimination and treats "gay and lesbian persons differently in a way that demeans them."

Kentucky is the 10th state to have its same-sex marriage ban struck down since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act. Heyburn is the first judge nominated by a Republican president to strike down a state ban, according to The Washington Post. Sen. Mitch McConnell recommended Heyburn for the bench.

Heyburn wrote that his ruling may leave many Kentuckians who believe in "traditional marriage" "confused — even angry."

But, he continued: "The beauty of our Constitution is that it accommodates our individual faith's definition of marriage while preventing the government from unlawfully treating us differently.

"This is hardly surprising since it was written by people who came to America to find both freedom of religion and freedom from it."

The ruling requires Kentucky to grant same-sex couples married in other states all the legal benefits of marriage. Heyburn was not asked whether Kentucky must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples but wrote that recent rulings "suggest a possible result to that question."

In the decade since 75 percent of voters approved the unconstitutional amendment, attitudes have softened. A recent Bluegrass Poll found that 55 percent of Kentucky voters oppose same-sex marriage.

Ultimately, though, public opinion must take a back seat to the Constitution. One of our system's great strengths is that rights are not subject to popular vote. Courts often take too long to pierce the scrim of tradition and prejudice that shields injustice.

But as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "the arc of the moral universe ... bends towards justice." That arc shone like a rainbow over Kentucky yesterday.

Congratulations to Heyburn for protecting all our freedoms by upholding the rights of a minority.

And thanks to the four courageous couples, married in other states but living here, who brought the challenge.

Kentucky should not waste valuable resources appealing.

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