Herald-Leader Editorial

Beshear making a political appeal; AG Conway on right side of law, history

March 6, 2014 

  • What do you think?

    Go to Kentucky.com/opinons to share your thoughts about the governor's and attorney general's split decision on gaymarriage.

Gov. Steve Beshear is a smart lawyer and a smart politician. The politician must have come up with his rationale for defending Kentucky's ban on same-sex marriage.

To comply with U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn's ruling, all that employers, government offices and health care providers would have to do is treat spouses of the same gender as they treat other married Kentuckians.

There's little potential for the "legal chaos" Beshear said would ensue unless the state puts the change on hold by appealing.

Since last summer when the U.S. Supreme Court made two historic rulings in favor of marriage equality, same-sex marriage bans have fallen at the hands of federal judges in seven states. Not a single federal or state judge has upheld a ban like Kentucky's since the high court rulings.

A number of states are defending their bans, however, by appealing lower-court decisions. With or without Kentucky's involvement, the Supreme Court should, as Beshear said, and will settle the legal sparring, either through a ruling or by letting the unanimous lower-court rulings stand.

So, why make Kentuckians wait for their constitutional rights and pay lawyers to keep us in the pro-discrimination camp?

As Attorney General Jack Conway, who split with his fellow Democrat by dropping out as a defendant, said, any appeal is likely to lose because it would be defending unconstitutional discrimination.

Notably, Conway once advocated civil unions rather than marriage for same-sex couples. But, like many Kentuckians, he has come to see the bright line between the government-sanctioned legal contract of marriage and the religious bond sanctified by churches. No one is forcing a church or clergy to bless a marriage that conflicts with their beliefs, and, under the Constitution, no one ever will.

Conway's stance will serve him well in the Democratic gubernatorial primary that he is likely to enter next year but could hurt him in the General Election.

Beshear, finishing his last term as governor, has denied that he was thinking of his son Andy's run for attorney general. The younger Beshear's fund-raising edge affords protection from Democratic challengers, but dad's defense of "traditional marriage" could help him defeat a Republican in 2015.

Beshear's decision could also help his whole party by making it a big tent for all kinds of weddings. Democratic candidates can hang their hats on their governor's defense of states rights and traditional marriage. Or they can embrace their AG's recognition that the Constitution does not allow two classes of citizens.

Perhaps this divide among Democrats is also generational.

Anti-gay prejudice has melted swiftly and many younger people don't understand why marriage is even an issue.

Conway, who is 25 years younger than Beshear, choked up in front of the cameras when he got to the end of his statement and spoke of how his young daughters would one day view this decision.

Being on the right side of history, as Conway is, sometimes risks being on the losing end of an election, which is why the AG deserved the big cheer he got from the crowd that commemorated the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march on Frankfort Wednesday.

That march prodded Kentucky to become the first southern state to enact a civil rights law extending the dignity of full citizenship to all people without regard to race.

Guaranteeing that same dignity without regard to sexual orientation can only make Kentucky a better place to live, work, do business and raise a family.

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