The Kentucky Senate approved a bill Thursday that would create two marriage license forms — one for same-sex couples and another for straight couples — with the name and title of the county clerk and deputy clerk removed from both.
Before approving the bill, the chamber turned down a proposal to have only one license form.
Under Senate Bill 5, sponsored by Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, one marriage license would designate the “bride” and “groom” and the other would designate “first party” and “second party.” West said couples could use either form, both of which would require applicants to note their genders so historians who review marriage licenses could know their sex.
Opponents declared the bill unconstitutional minutes after the Republican-led Senate approved it on a 30-8 vote.
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“Separate forms for gay and lesbian Kentuckians constitute unqual treatment under the law,” said Michael Aldridge, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky. “Pure and simple, this bill is motivated by the desire to accommodate discrimination against same-sex couples.”
Aldridge said the Senate action “is setting a dangerous slippery slope precedent by catering to one specific religious belief and privileging that over others.”
He added that a proposed amendment by Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, to have only one form for “bride,” “groom,” or “party,” rather than require separate forms for same-sex couples, offered “a reasonable way forward.”
The Senate defeated McGarvey’s amendment 23-15. It attracted support from several Republicans.
The legislation was in response to the jailing last year of Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who refused to issue marriage licenses after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages.
Then-Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, changed Kentucky’s marriage license form after the Supreme Court ruling to remove “bride” and “groom,” replacing them with “first party” and “second party.” Republican Matt Bevin issued an executive order shortly after taking office in December to remove the names of county clerks from marriage licenses and urged the legislature to take further action.
West said he worked on his bill with input from county clerks, including Davis.
McGarvey, in presenting his amendment, said he had talked earlier in the day to 96 clerks and deputy clerks at their invitation during a meeting at the Transportation Cabinet building in Frankfort.
He said Davis said publicly that she liked his idea of only one form.
McGarvey said it was more efficient, less costly and “puts everyone on equal footing.”
But Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, called it an “unfriendly amendment” and said county clerks had told him they backed two forms.
After several senators weighed in on the amendment from various viewpoints, Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said in a floor speech that two forms were needed.
In explaining his vote against the bill, Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, said, “We have bigotry in the commonwealth” and that “separate has never been equal.”
But Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, said a single marriage license form was disrespectful “to the vast majority of Kentuckians who respect traditional marriage.”
The bill now goes to the House, where Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has indicated the chamber would pass its own marriage license bill.