Judge puts 21-day hold on ruling requiring Kentucky to recognize same-sex marriages

jcheves@herald-leader.comFebruary 28, 2014 

  • Q&A: Kentucky's same-sex marriage ruling explained

    Question: Does Attorney General Jack Conway have to appeal the judge's ruling?

    Answer: Legally, no. As attorney general, Conway is the state's lawyer, but he's allowed some discretion in how he represents Kentucky in court. Conway and Gov. Steve Beshear have 30 days to appeal the decision to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. Having argued in favor of the same-sex marriage ban at the district court level, he could accept defeat. In fact, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder this week urged his state counterparts to stop defending same-sex marriage bans, comparing the bans to the school segregation laws that began falling in the 1950s.

    Politically, it's complicated. Conway, a Democrat, is weighing a run for governor next year. Religious conservative groups are pressuring him to appeal Heyburn's decision. Some blasted him this week for not fighting hard enough to win the case in Heyburn's courtroom. A recent Bluegrass Poll found that 55 percent of registered voters in Kentucky oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry in Kentucky.

    Q: Can same-sex couples get married in Kentucky?

    A: No. The only marriages recognized by Heyburn's order are those from places outside Kentucky where same-sex marriages are legal. However, Heyburn could issue another ruling dealing with same-sex marriages performed in Kentucky as early as this summer.

    Q: If a same-sex couple is legally married elsewhere, can they immediately seek the same benefits offered to all other married couples in Kentucky?

    A: Expect delays until there's more guidance from Frankfort. For example, Nore Ghibaudy, a spokesman for the Jefferson County clerk, told The Associated Press that 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."

FRANKFORT — A federal judge agreed Friday to delay until March 20 his order requiring Kentucky to recognize same-sex marriages from outside the state.

Attorney General Jack Conway had asked U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II for a 90-day "stay," or delay, in the effective date of his final order issued Thursday. Lawyers for Conway and Gov. Steve Beshear said they needed the time to decide whether they will appeal Heyburn's order or implement it.

Heyburn issued a 21-day stay instead. The judge said he would rather not extend Kentucky's "unconstitutional policy" prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriages, but he doesn't want to create chaos for couples seeking their legal rights before the state decides its next move. Some local officials, such as county clerks, have said they are reluctant to acknowledge same-sex marital rights until they receive guidance from Frankfort.

During a telephone conference call with the judge earlier Friday, the state's lawyers did not make arguments about why an appeal might be necessary or why an appeal would be successful, Heyburn wrote in his stay order. They argued only "that some time is necessary to implement the order and, absent planning, considerable confusion could result," he wrote.

"Here, the state merely asks for reasonable time to implement the order," Heyburn wrote. "The court concludes that a limited stay allows the state proper time to administratively prepare for compliance with the order."

Conway and Beshear, both Democrats, will decide on an appeal in "a matter of days and not a matter of weeks," said Allison Martin, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office.

In a statement, Beshear said he and Conway would discuss "our next steps" and "make a decision promptly."

Laura Landenwich, an attorney for the plaintiffs suing Beshear and Conway, said she appreciated Heyburn's speedy timetable. The 90-day delay that Conway wanted was excessive, and it would have extended past the April 15 income tax filing deadline, so same-sex spouses could not have filed jointly this year, Landenwich said.

"This should not be that difficult of an order to implement," Landenwich said. "From our perspective, the commonwealth treats married couples a certain way, with certain rights. So now we'll just be treating everyone that way."

In 1998, the Kentucky General Assembly changed state law to clarify that only marriages between "one man and one woman" are valid. Any other marriage, even if it's legal in another state, would be void in Kentucky. Lawmakers returned to the subject in 2004 by putting on the ballot a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which voters approved overwhelmingly.

Last year, four same-sex couples legally wed outside Kentucky sued the state in U.S. District Court in Louisville to demand recognition of their marriages. Heyburn ruled in favor of the couples this month, striking down as unconstitutional Kentucky's bans on recognizing other states' same-sex marriages.

On Thursday, Heyburn allowed new plaintiffs from Jefferson County to join and expand the lawsuit. Timothy Love and Lawrence Ysunza, who have lived together for 33 years, and Maurice Blanchard and Dominique James, who have been together for 10 years, are demanding that Kentucky county clerks issue them marriage certificates. Heyburn said that this portion of the case concerning in-state marriages should be decided by later this year.

Because of the new plaintiffs, Heyburn on Friday ordered that the name of the case be changed to Love vs. Beshear.

John Cheves: (859) 231-3266. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service