Politics & Government

Compromise reached on single marriage license for all Ky. couples

State Sen. Morgan McGarvey, center, testifies for bill for single-form marriage licenses with Floyd County Clerk Chris Waugh, left, and Kentucky County Clerks Association lobbyist Bill May.
State Sen. Morgan McGarvey, center, testifies for bill for single-form marriage licenses with Floyd County Clerk Chris Waugh, left, and Kentucky County Clerks Association lobbyist Bill May. jbrammer@herald-leader.com

Kentucky would have a single marriage license for straight and gay couples under a compromise plan backed by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and the Democrat-controlled House Judiciary Committee.

The proposed form would allow applicants to identify themselves as bride, groom or spouse and would not require the county clerk’s signature. That could be done by a deputy clerk.

Controversy over the state’s marriage license erupted last summer when Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis refused to issue marriage licenses after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. She spent five days in jail, citing her religious objections.

With Bevin’s blessing, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill Wednesday calling for a single marriage license, in contrast to a proposal approved by the Republican-led Senate that called for separate forms for gay and straight couples. One form would put applicants’ names under sections titled “bride” or “groom.” Another form would allow applicants to sign under “first party” or “second party.”

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis emerged from the Carter County jail in 2015 flanked by Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and her attorney, who pledged that Davis would continue her stand against same-sex marriage.

The new version of Senate Bill 216, which previously dealt with reorganization in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, now goes to the Democrat-controlled House for its consideration. If approved by the House, the altered bill would return to the Senate for its consideration.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said their chambers will accept the altered bill.

State Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, said a single form would be less expensive, more efficient for county clerks and treat everyone fairly.

He also said the Kentucky County Clerks Association has endorsed the single form and that Bevin had sent a letter earlier in the day to House Judiciary Chairman Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, recommending the single form.

“It is my strong opinion that the best way to solve this confusion is by passing legislation instituting one single marriage form,” Bevin said

Bevin said his staff has been working with McGarvey, other legislators and the County Clerks Association to craft legislation to address all concerns.

“I offer my support for a single form and look forward to signing this legislation and allowing our county clerks to follow the law without being forced to violate their own conscience,” Bevin said.

McGarvey said he was optimistic that the bill that emerged from the House committee Wednesday will be “the resolution to this controversy.”

McGarvey said Davis backed his compromise proposal. A call to her Morehead office for comment was referred to her attorneys at Liberty Counsel, in Orlando, Fla.

Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said Davis supports the single form as long as it allows clerks to remove their names if they object.

“We are pleased this legislation is moving forward in such a way,” he said.

Bill May, a lobbyist for the state clerks’ association, said clerks voted to back the single form. He did not have a vote count.

Chris Hartman, director of the Louisville-based Fairness Campaign, said the House committee’s action “was a great move.”

“I think one marriage form is smart,” he said. “This meets the needs of everyone involved.”