Ky. seeks delay in order that it recognize same-sex marriages from other states

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — 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 two-page filing says the delay is sought to give Attorney General Jack Conway, a Democrat, time to decide whether to appeal the Feb. 12 ruling and would give the state an opportunity to prepare to implement the order.

Attorney General Jack Conway (D-Ky.)
Attorney General Jack Conway (D-Ky.)

The request came as parties in the case awaited a final order from U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II overturning part of Kentucky’s same-sex marriage ban.

Earlier this month, Heyburn concluded that the ban, which has been in place since 2004, treated “gay and lesbian persons differently in a way that demeans them.”

The attorney general’s request doesn’t mean that Heyburn’s decision won’t go into effect. The judge did not immediately rule on a potential delay.

Should Heyburn issue a final order and deny a delay, same-sex coup les would be allowed change their names on official identifications and documents and obtain any other benefits of married couples in Kentucky. Heyburn’s ruling doesn’t affect a related lawsuit seeking to force the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

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.

On Wednesday, a federal judge in Texas struck down that state’s gay marriage ban but immediately delayed the implementation of his ruling pending appeals by the state.

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.

The proposed order only requires Kentucky to recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples performed in other states or countries. It does not deal with whether the state can be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

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.

“If this were a private case, it would be legal malpractice,” Cothran said. “The longer the attorney general drags his feet on this case, the worse it is for Kentucky voters.”

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.”

“Assigning a religious or traditional rationale for a law does not make it constitutional when that law discriminates against a class of people without other reasons,” wrote Heyburn, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush.

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