Same-sex marriage now legally recognized in Kentucky

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WKYT) - It’s a ruling that has people across the commonwealth talking. A federal judge has signed off on his order that requires Kentucky to recognize same-sex marriages performed out of state.

It’s a victory for same-sex couples but opponents of the order call it a bad move.

Whether you're for it or against it, there's no denying the magnitude of the ruling made by Judge John Heyburn on Thursday regarding same-sex marriage in Kentucky.

Earlier this month, Heyburn concluded that the state's 2004 ban on gay marriage treated same-sex couples differently in a demeaning way.

“Only some portions of the law were struck down. Judge Heyburn’s order does not pertain to whether or not Kentucky actually has to marry same sex couples; all that this order tells us is that Kentucky cannot discriminate when same sex couples are married out of state or country,” said Nicole Huberfeld, a professor of law at the University of Kentucky.

Same-sex couples will now be granted the exact same benefits as heterosexual couples.

For example, they'll receive the same tax and estate benefits along with being able to change their names on official identifications.

But some see this ruling as a slippery slope.

“If anyone is married outside of Kentucky we are now required to recognize them and that’s going to get sticky if the polygamy case in Utah passes. Does that mean we will have to recognize polygamy in Kentucky?” asked Kent Ostrander, the Executive Director of The Family Foundation.

Others see it as a step forward, including Kentucky native Whitney Bacon who married her partner two years ago in England.

“I think it’s fantastic and a great step toward equality. I’m proud of Kentucky. There are a lot of really good changes going on in America but we didn’t really think that Kentucky would be one of the next states to do this,” Bacon told us over the phone Thursday.

Now folks on both sides of the issue will have to wait and see how the legal proceedings play out and if Thursday’s landmark ruling will really stick.

The attorney general's office is in the process of reviewing judge Heyburn’s final order.

They have thirty days to determine whether or not to file an appeal in the case.

Kentucky's attorney general asked a federal judge on Thursday to delay by 90 days an order requiring the state to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries.

The attorney general's request doesn't mean that Heyburn's decision won't go into effect.

Shannon Fauver, an attorney for one of the couples pursuing recognition of a marriage performed in Canada, said she was disappointed in the request for a stay.

Heyburn's ruling doesn't affect a related lawsuit seeking to force the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Final briefings in the marriage license case are due to Heyburn by May 28.

The decision in the socially conservative state comes against the backdrop of similar rulings or actions in other states where same-sex couples have long fought for the right to marry.

Kentucky's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was approved by voters in 2004 and included the out-of-state clause.

The Kentucky ruling came in lawsuits brought by four gay and lesbian couples seeking to force the state to recognize their out-of-state marriages.

Martin Cothran, a senior policy analyst for the Family Foundation of Kentucky, criticized Attorney General Jack Conway's handling of the case, accusing him of "spiking" the state's defense by not making persuasive arguments to keep the ban in place.

Laura Landenwich, an attorney representing several of the couples who sued, said a delay in implementing the ruling leaves state employees in legal limbo.

"Basically, you are the state officer and employee and you need to know what you can and can't do," Landenwich said. "It'll be interesting to see what happens."

In his 23-page ruling issued Feb. 12, Heyburn concluded that the government may define marriage and attach benefits to it but cannot "impose a traditional or faith-based limitation" without a sufficient justification for it."

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