LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A Louisville couple on Friday challenged Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriages, saying the state isn’t treating them and other same-sex couples on equal footing with other married couples.
Gregory Bourke and Michael De Leon, who were married in Canada nine years ago, are asking U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn Ii to require Kentucky to recognize valid unions from other states and countries.
“There’s no reason why we should be second-class citizens,” De Leon said Friday afternoon. “We should be at the table with everybody else.”
The men are seeking an injunction to stop state and local officials from enforcing the ban written into the Kentucky constitution in 2004. The suit is the first such challenge in Kentucky since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The act had blocked married same-sex couples from receiving the same benefits as heterosexual spouses.
Bourke, a 55- year-old applications consultant at Humana, and Deleon, a 55-year-old database administrator at General Electric, were married in at Niagara Falls in Canada, in 2004. Both men said the recent decision by the Supreme Court proved to be the impetus to challenge Kentucky’s ban.
“We feel like victims of discrimination,” Bourke said. “That’s what this lawsuit is about, not being treated equally under the law.”
Challenges to same-sex marriage bans have been filed in recent weeks in Pennsylvania, Arkansas and New Mexico. The American Civil Liberties Union has said challenges are also expected in Virginia, Nevada, Hawaii and Michigan.
Kentucky changed its state constitution in 2004 to include the prohibition on same-sex marriage. The amendment reads: “Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Kentucky” and “A marriage between members of the same sex which occurs in another jurisdiction shall be void in Kentucky.”
Officials at Attorney General Jack Conway’s office had not yet seen the lawsuit but planned to review it, said spokeswoman Allison Martin. Gov. Steve Beshear was waiting to receive a copy of the lawsuit to review it, spokeswoman Kerri Richardson said.
Martin Cothran, a spokesman for the Family Foundation of Kentucky, which backed the ban, said the two men have “a hard case to make.”
Cothran noted that voters passed the amendment in 2004 by an overwhelming margin.
“We would oppose any effort to change what Kentuckians decided on that,” Cothran said.
Dawn Elliott, an attorney for the men, said marriage would allow same-sex couples to protect their children if one partner lacks health insurance, and prevent children from being removed from their home if something happened to the biological or legally recognized parent.
De Leon is the father of an adopted 15-year-old boy and 14-year-old girl. Bourke has been designated a legal guardian for the children. They want Bourke listed as a parent to the children. Kentucky’s ban bars him from being listed as a parent.
De Leon noted the couple had to run a legal obstacle course to give them both legal rights to make decisions about the children.
“There are a lot of legal documents we would not have had to do if we were a married, heterosexual couple,” De Leon said.
Without a recognized marriage, Elliott said, the couple will face an inheritance tax at a higher rate than if their marriage was recognized by the state.
Bourke is no stranger to challenging restrictions on gays and lesbians. In February, Bourke started an online petition urging the United Way to denounce the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on gays as Scouts or adult leaders. It targets United Way because the organization is a major financial contributor to Boy Scouts.
Bourke was an assistant scoutmaster for his adopted son’s Louisville Scout troop for several years until he was forced to resign last year after informing Scout leaders that he is gay. His role had included coordinating and supervising camping trips and helping boys achieve merit badges. His own 15-year-old son, Isaiah, is close to becoming an Eagle Scout, he said.
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