Raymond Sexton: Kentucky should again lead for equality and justice

April 7, 2014 

Raymond A. Sexton is executive director of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission.

  • At issue: March 20 Herald-Leader article, "Ky. recognition of same-sex marriage indefinitely delayed; judge grants stay; governor praises the decision"

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission serves to safeguard all individuals within Fayette County from discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, disability, familial status or sexual orientation/gender identity in connection with housing, employment and public accommodation.

The rights of inhabitants of Lexington are inextricably bound to the rights and privileges bestowed upon all residents of Kentucky.

The official action of any state government to limit the rights and privileges of its residents falls validly within the stated purpose of the commission. The commission recognizes the importance of Judge John G. Heyburn's decision in Gregory Bourke, et. al. v. Steve Beshear, et. al., and affirms his findings and conclusions.

In his ruling, Heyburn stated, "Kentucky's denial of recognition of same-sex marriages violates the United States Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law, even under the most deferential standard of review" and further stated that his ruling "will profoundly affect validly married same-sex couples' experience of living in the Commonwealth and elevate their marriage to an equal status in the eyes of state law".

Kentucky has a storied history in leading the South in anti-discrimination protections. Gov. Edward Breathitt took a bold step forward in pushing Kentucky's civil rights laws in 1966, the first Southern state to make such a move.

However, Kentucky now lags behind in protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered citizens. Only after 15 years, the commonwealth has made a small step in having an informational-only hearing on statewide anti-discriminatory legislation protecting the LGBT community.

Now we stand at the precipice of marriage equality, with an opportunity to again lead fellow Southern states. Heyburn further states that "history has already shown us that, while the Constitution itself does not change, our understanding of the meaning of its protections and structure evolves ... if this were not so, many practices that we now abhor would still exist".

As an organization whose sole mission is to alleviate discriminatory practices in the community, the commission must take a stand in support of Heyburn's court ruling. As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. thoughtfully exclaimed, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

We believe in order for all Kentuckians to enjoy the freedoms and equality provided by our great Constitution, we must rise up against injustice, discrimination and inequality under the law.

We understand that by the very nature of prohibiting a right to marriage recognition, discrimination is inherent. Any entity that recognizes the legal rights of some, while refusing the same rights to others, is guilty of the very true definition of discrimination.

By denying equitable treatment in recognition of legally married couples from other states, we go beyond making a social statement. We end up refusing rights of guardianship for children, inheritance without penalty, and cause increased legal costs to those who wish to protect their family.

Beyond these inherent inequities, by disregarding the legal recognition of same-sex couples their right to civil recognition, our commonwealth falls into the realms of discrimination.

We stand in support of our LGBT friends and family, looking to be recognized, equitably, in their rights to marry the ones they love. We look forward to a day when our courts are able to make a final determination on the legalities of state-sanctioned discrimination against the LGBT population.

And we look forward to when our LGBT friends, families and colleagues will share in the recognition that their relationships are just as supportive, loving and equal as any other in our commonwealth.

Raymond A. Sexton is executive director of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission.

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