The judge whose ruling striking down Kentucky's ban on gay marriage led to an appeal heard this week in the U.S. Supreme Court has died. He was 66.
U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II died at home in Louisville surrounded by family after battling cancer for several years, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky announced.
Last year, Heyburn struck down Kentucky's ban on gay marriage and on recognizing same-sex marriages from outside the state. The rulings were reversed on appeal, but the Supreme Court heard arguments on them Tuesday.
Heyburn wrote that the ban on marriages performed elsewhere treated "gay and lesbian persons differently in a way that demeans them."
"Assigning a religious or traditional rationale for a law does not make it constitutional when that law discriminates against a class of people without other reasons," wrote Heyburn, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush.
"John had a gifted legal mind, but he also had the ability to see beyond the legal arguments and into the humanity of those who came before him," Senior Judge Charles R. Simpson III said in the statement from the court.
Heyburn graduated with a degree in history from Harvard, served in the Army Reserves from 1970 to 1976 and graduated from the University of Kentucky law school in 1976.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a statement calling Heyburn a great Kentuckian and noting the opinions the judge issued in complex cases over more than two decades on the bench. Heyburn also would be remembered for his devotion to his family, McConnell said.
"Known for his searing intellect, fiercely competitive spirit, and quick wit, John Heyburn untangled countless legal knots and delivered sweeping legal opinions on cases of incredible complexity over his more than two decades on the federal bench. And yet the thing you were most likely to remember about his chambers were all the photos of his wife Martha and their beloved sons Will and Jack," McConnell said. "John was always dedicated to family first, and I think that’s how he’d want us to remember him. Elaine and I mourn the passing of our dear friend, a man whose intelligence, good humor and upstanding character I have greatly admired since our paths first crossed on the campaign trail in 1971. We send our heartfelt condolences to Martha and the rest of the Heyburn family, and to the many, many friends this good man leaves behind."
Others offered their recollections of Heyburn.
Attorney General Jack Conway said, "Judge Heyburn was an incredible person, a student of the law and a judge who always made certain that the rights and interests of everyone were protected in his courtroom."
Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, "For the more than 20 years Judge Heyburn served on the bench, he demonstrated respect for the law and the parties that came before him. He was an outstanding jurist. My thoughts and prayers are with his family."