Fayette County

Kentucky gay-rights activists celebrate court rulings on same-sex marriage

Chris Hartman, director of the Louisville Fairness Campaign, spoke during a rally June 26 in Louisville in support of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act.
Chris Hartman, director of the Louisville Fairness Campaign, spoke during a rally June 26 in Louisville in support of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act. Associated Press

A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday makes it possible for gay and lesbian couples in Kentucky to obtain some federal marriage benefits, but the decisions don't alter the state's ban on same-sex marriage.

Under the ruling, same-sex couples in Kentucky who are legally married in other states will be eligible to receive at least some of the more than 1,100 federal benefits available to opposite-sex couples.

"It feels a little bit like today is my third wedding day," Lexington resident Ann Malcolm said after hearing about the court rulings. She and her wife, AC Meacham, had two weddings in 2011: one in Lexington and an official ceremony in Washington D.C., where same-sex marriage is legal.

One of the first things Malcolm did after the court rulings was speak with her employer about changing her marriage status on federal tax documents.

"There are so many rights and responsibilities and benefits that come along with being married," she said.

The Supreme Court struck down a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that denies the right of same-sex couples to collect federal marriage benefits. The court also issued a technical ruling on Wednesday that upheld a lower court's declaration that California's Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

Some religious groups were quick to reiterate Wednesday that the rulings don't alter a 2004 amendment to the Kentucky Constitution that bans same-sex marriage and civil unions. The amendment won approval from 75 percent of voters.

"The bottom line for Kentuckians is that Kentucky's Marriage Amendment is left intact, which was passed with more votes in favor than votes on both sides of any previous Kentucky constitutional amendment," said Martin Cothran, spokesman for The Family Foundation.

Lexington Fairness chairman Roy Harrison said his group is hopeful that Kentucky leaders will now be more willing to reconsider the state's ban on same-sex marriage. The next step, he said, is getting a statewide fairness ordinance.

He noted that four Kentucky cities — Lexington, Louisville, Covington and Vicco — have passed ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and that others, including Frankfort, are considering the issue.

Jeff Fugate, pastor of Clays Mill Road Baptist Church in Lexington, said he fears that the court's rulings will encourage more fairness ordinances, which he said are unconstitutional.

"It is a sad day for America's Christian heritage," Fugate said.

Although most national polls show a slim majority favoring same-sex marriage, a solid majority of Kentuckians still opposes the idea.

In an April telephone poll of 1,052 Kentucky voters by Public Policy Polling, 65 percent of respondents said they think same-sex marriage should remain illegal. Only 27 percent said it should be allowed, and 8 percent were not sure.

"It's very clear that Kentucky is still very conservative on this issue," Cothran said. "We don't see that changing to such an extent that would threaten the current constitutional language."

However, Kentucky voters appear more open to the idea of civil unions for same-sex couples. Fifty-two percent of respondents said gay couples should either be allowed to marry or form civil unions. Only 44 percent said there should be no legal recognition of a gay couple's relationship.

The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Harrison said momentum is growing in the state to allow civil unions as people "are beginning to understand that being gay is not strange."

Paul Brown, president of the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization in Lexington, said he has seen a shift in public opinion in Kentucky's metropolitan areas. But that's not generally the case in rural areas, where "it has been a struggle to change people's attitudes," Brown said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, created a stir Wednesday when he spoke about the rulings on Glenn Beck's radio show.

When Beck suggested the ruling might lead to polygamy, Paul responded: "I think this is a conundrum. If we have no laws on this, people take it to one extension further, does it have to be humans?"

Paul later clarified his statement on Fox News to host Megyn Kelly, saying, "I don't think we're going on towards polygamy or things beyond that."

He told several news outlets Wednesday that the court's rulings were appropriate and affirm traditional marriage in 34 states.

We asked:

What is your reaction to the Supreme Court's rulings Wednesday on same-sex marriage?

You said:

 "Fell asleep a second-class citizen and woke up with the same rights my sister and brothers had when they chose to get married. Now the rest of the states need to get on board." — Bo Halver

 "This world gets farther away from God and what this country was founded on every day ... it's simply sad." — Stacy Kier

 "It's about time gay couples were afforded the same rights as straight couples. Kentuckians should be ashamed that we don't allow gay marriage. 30 years from now, those protesting gay marriage will sound as ignorant and hateful as those who protested interracial marriage." — Kate Hollon

 "What's sad is the fact that this country is determined to shut out morality, Christianity and the Bible " — Donna Boggs Bowling

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