As federal judges across the land — most recently in Texas last week — make clear that state bans on same-sex marriage violate the U.S. Constitution, Kentuckians should not have to wait for their rights.
Nor should their tax dollars be wasted on a futile appeal of U.S. District Judge John Heyburn's Feb. 12 ruling ordering Kentucky to honor same-sex marriages from other states. (Heyburn is now considering whether Kentucky must begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.)
Whether to appeal rests with Gov. Steve Beshear and Attorney General Jack Conway. Heyburn has given them until March 20 to decide.
The best argument for appealing would be to uphold the will of Kentucky's voters, who in 2004 overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage.
Though that might be the best argument, it's still a weak one because the U.S. Constitution protects the rights of minorities, even when those rights are counter to the majority's will. That's the same Constitution that Beshear, Conway and all the state's elected officials have sworn to uphold.
For some Kentuckians, acceptance of same-sex marriage — and of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in general — is moving too fast. Of course, the same could have been said for giving women the right to own property or ending racial segregation.
While the legal principles are compelling, this is also a practical and personal matter for many families.
Case in point: The Lexington family of 25 years, headed by two women, who became the first to benefit directly from Heyburn's order. Retired University of Kentucky professor Joan Callahan adopted her stepson, David Crossen, whom she had parented alongside his mother Jennifer Leigh Crossen, a horseback riding instructor. The two women were married last fall in Massachusetts
Citing Heyburn's ruling, Fayette Circuit Judge Kathy Stein finalized the adoption last week. As a result, if David Crossen inherits Callahan's estate, he'll be eligible for the same tax benefits as any other child inheriting from a parent or stepparent.
In years past, the couple spent thousands of dollars on documents to show that Callahan could make legal decisions for the child and travel with him across state lines.
One of the reasons not to delay marriage equality in Kentucky is that the deadline for filing income taxes is April 15; all married couples should be able to file as married couples.
The decision is complicated for Conway, a Democrat, because he is eyeing a race for governor next year.
Democratic attorneys general in Virginia, Pennsylvania, California, Illinois and Nevada have declined to defend same-sex marriage bans.
In other states marriage bans are being defended, which means the appeals will be litigated with or without Kentucky's involvement. The chances of successful appeals seem slight, since last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling has been a basis for striking down state bans.
Probably the most universally attractive reason not to appeal was voiced by Auditor Adam Edelen, also a likely Democratic candidate for governor, who has been on record supporting marriage equality: "I really don't like the idea of spending money on lawyers when we're laying off school teachers."