The U.S. Supreme Court could issue a decision on Kentucky's same-sex marriage ban as soon as Thursday, but Kentucky officials are staying mum on what, if any, preparations they've made if the justices vote to allow gay marriage.
A spokesperson for Gov. Steve Beshear declined to comment when asked what preparations were being made to accommodate possible new requests for marriage licenses at county clerks' offices.
The wording on marriage license forms would have to change to accommodate same-sex couples, but the Department of Libraries and Archives, which is in charge of designing marriage licenses, might or might not have a redesigned form ready to go, according to spokeswoman Cathy Lindsey.
"They have explored a variety of options, which at this point are preliminary and speculative," Lindsey said. "No final decisions on those options can be made until a ruling is issued and reviewed."
Bill May, executive director of the Kentucky County Clerks Association, said his group is waiting for the ruling, "after which we will look to the guidance from the commonwealth and the various agencies that promulgate regulations on marriage licenses."
Behind the scenes, officials are probably laying out contingency plans, said Laura Landenwich, one of the Louisville attorneys who took the Kentucky plaintiffs' case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Landenwich said she understood that the state had communicated with the county clerks, and that a new marriage license has been designed.
"It's a matter of who pulls the trigger on starting to use the form," she said.
Thirty-seven states now allow same-sex marriage. Last year, the late U.S. District Judge John Heyburn struck down Kentucky's ban, but the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower courts' decisions to overturn bans in Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Michigan. In April, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case now called Obergefell vs. Hodges.
If the Supreme Court strikes down the ban, as many legal experts expect, it will probably issue a mandate — an official date when states must comply with the ruling, Landenwich said. Beshear could choose to wait until that date, or comply with the ruling sooner.
"It's an issue of do you voluntarily comply with what the law is, or do you hold off until the very end?" she said.
State officials probably don't want to address the controversial decision until necessary, said Chris Hartman, director of the Kentucky Fairness Campaign, but "I think it would be imprudent for a government agency not to be prepared for what many think is an inevitable change. I would hope they would have a plan in place."
Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins Jr. said he thinks the Libraries and Archives department began looking at the issue about a year ago.
"You just have to change the forms and off you go," he said.
Blevins said he will wait until he gets an official go-ahead from Beshear.
"Even though I'm in favor of this, I wouldn't issue a license until we get an official communication from the governor," he said.