FRANKFORT — A federal judge agreed Friday to delay until March 20 his order requiring Kentucky to recognize same-sex marriages from outside the state.
Attorney General Jack Conway had asked U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II for a 90-day "stay," or delay, in the effective date of his final order issued Thursday. Lawyers for Conway and Gov. Steve Beshear said they needed the time to decide whether they will appeal Heyburn's order or implement it.
Heyburn issued a 21-day stay instead. The judge said he would rather not extend Kentucky's "unconstitutional policy" prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriages, but he doesn't want to create chaos for couples seeking their legal rights before the state decides its next move. Some local officials, such as county clerks, have said they are reluctant to acknowledge same-sex marital rights until they receive guidance from Frankfort.
During a telephone conference call with the judge earlier Friday, the state's lawyers did not make arguments about why an appeal might be necessary or why an appeal would be successful, Heyburn wrote in his stay order. They argued only "that some time is necessary to implement the order and, absent planning, considerable confusion could result," he wrote.
"Here, the state merely asks for reasonable time to implement the order," Heyburn wrote. "The court concludes that a limited stay allows the state proper time to administratively prepare for compliance with the order."
Conway and Beshear, both Democrats, will decide on an appeal in "a matter of days and not a matter of weeks," said Allison Martin, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office.
In a statement, Beshear said he and Conway would discuss "our next steps" and "make a decision promptly."
Laura Landenwich, an attorney for the plaintiffs suing Beshear and Conway, said she appreciated Heyburn's speedy timetable. The 90-day delay that Conway wanted was excessive, and it would have extended past the April 15 income tax filing deadline, so same-sex spouses could not have filed jointly this year, Landenwich said.
"This should not be that difficult of an order to implement," Landenwich said. "From our perspective, the commonwealth treats married couples a certain way, with certain rights. So now we'll just be treating everyone that way."
In 1998, the Kentucky General Assembly changed state law to clarify that only marriages between "one man and one woman" are valid. Any other marriage, even if it's legal in another state, would be void in Kentucky. Lawmakers returned to the subject in 2004 by putting on the ballot a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which voters approved overwhelmingly.
Last year, four same-sex couples legally wed outside Kentucky sued the state in U.S. District Court in Louisville to demand recognition of their marriages. Heyburn ruled in favor of the couples this month, striking down as unconstitutional Kentucky's bans on recognizing other states' same-sex marriages.
On Thursday, Heyburn allowed new plaintiffs from Jefferson County to join and expand the lawsuit. Timothy Love and Lawrence Ysunza, who have lived together for 33 years, and Maurice Blanchard and Dominique James, who have been together for 10 years, are demanding that Kentucky county clerks issue them marriage certificates. Heyburn said that this portion of the case concerning in-state marriages should be decided by later this year.
Because of the new plaintiffs, Heyburn on Friday ordered that the name of the case be changed to Love vs. Beshear.