Federal Judge Strikes Down Portion of Kentucky’s Ban on Same-Sex Marriage

A federal judge in Kentucky has struck down Kentucky's ban on same-sex marriage, ruling that the state must recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere. Heyburn did not say that Kentucky must allow same-sex marriages, however, the Courier-Journal reports:

KentuckyU.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II joined nine other federal and state courts in invalidating such bans.

Ruling in a suit brought by four gay and lesbian couples, Heyburn said that while “religious beliefs … are vital to the fabric of society … 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.” …

…Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling throwing out the Defense of Marriage Act, Heyburn struck down the portion of Kentucky’s 2004 constitutional amendment that said “only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Kentucky.”

Heyburn did not rule that Kentucky must allow gay marriages to be performed in the state.

In a 23-page ruling, Heyburn said Kentucky’s sole justification for the the amendment was that was it was “rationally related to the legitimate government interest of preserving the state’s institution of traditional marriage.”

More at the Courier-Journal...


  1. SpaceCadet says

    Ding ding ding! Again, SCOTUS’s DOMA ruling is having a positive trickle-down effect at the state-level. So at least at this point gay Kentuckyans can get married in say Illinois, come back to Kentucky and now enjoy the same state and federal benefits as straight married couples.

  2. MikeBoston says

    I enjoy that Scalia was exactly right – the Windsor decision was the first domino in a long stack to fall. States are now denying federal benefits when they deny civil marriage equality – and that is discriminatory.

    This makes me smile.

  3. WOLF says

    Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, because this is fantastic, but does anyone know why the whole thing wasn’t taken down? Was it because the suit was that specific or because of the judge’s narrowness in ruling?

  4. Ben in Oakland says

    Actually, I think this is the best and most consistent ruling we can generally hope for. It may mean that gay couples have to go to another state to get legally married, but they WILL BE RECOGNIZED IN THEIR HOME STATE.

    Full repeal of antimarriage amendments will follow in just a few years with this intermediate step.

  5. DrHeimlich says

    In answer to Wolf:

    The only plaintiffs in this case were couples already married in other states. No plaintiffs here were Kentucky residents looking to be married. The judge therefore did not issue a broader ruling because that issue was not before the court.

  6. Howard B says

    I agree with Ben. I think that allowing the states to restrict who can get married in their state, but forcing them to recognize legally valid marriages from another state is a good intermediate step. I don’t think we have reached the tipping point where SCOTUS is ready to rule that all states MUST allow gay couples to get married in the state, but I’d be willing to bet they are ready to say that all states must recognize legally valid marriages from another state or country.

  7. Gregory In Seattle says

    @WOLF – “… does anyone know why the whole thing wasn’t taken down?”

    In _Windsor_, the Supreme Court was pretty clear that a legal marriage is a legal marriage, so the judge had little choice but to follow precedent. However, I believe the case in question was only about recognition of out-of-state marriage and not addressing the ban on solemnization itself, so it would have been questionable if the judge HAD addressed the ban, as it was not before his court.

  8. Francis says

    Will be very interesting to see what Conway/Beshear do. Two Democrats. Do they appeal? Or will they vacate defense of this amendment. Less than 40% of Kentuckians are for marriage equality. That makes this decision all the more rich. Same as in Utah and Oklahoma. Sorry bigots, you’re going to be dragged into equality, like it or not.

    States being forced to recognize out-of-state marriages would effectively legalize marriage equality nationwide so this is an important precedent-setting ruling. And Judge Heyburn is a GW BUSH appointee and served under Mike McConnell’s legal counsel. No “judicial activism” card applies here that the cons like to use. Great news.

  9. says

    Congratulations to couples in Kentucky that will benefit from this ruling.

    Justice Heyburn answered the question before him which was the constitutionality of state law and constitutional ban on recognizing same gender marriages that are legal elsewhere (out-of-state marriages). He dis so on narrow grounds (equal protection) and rational review as Sixth Circuit precedence. Plaintiffs asked for six criterion to be used but he found equal protection to be sufficient and left the others unanswered. While he ruled on out-of-state marriages only he did however hint very strongly that the state ban on allowing same gender couples to marry is itself unconstitutional but that wasn’t the question before him. No judicial overreach.

    Lots of goodies in this ruling. Heyburn made particular effort to explain the difference between religious view and civil government responsibility to equal treatment under law. He also gave a bit of historical context to the truth that while the marriage equality struggle looks to have come about very suddenly the reality is that it has been going on for nearly half a century. Kudos for that Justice Heyburn.

    This footnote struck me and needs to be cited. “One state senator, Ernesto Scorsone, spoke out against the constitutional amendment. He said: The efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution over the issue of interracial marriage failed despite repeated religious arguments and Biblical references. . . . The proposal today is a shocking departure from [our constitutional] principles. . . . To institutionalize discrimination in our constitution is to turn the document on its head. To allow the will of the majority to forever close the door to a minority, no matter how disliked, to any right, any privilege, is an act of political heresy. . . . Their status will be that of second-class citizens forever. . . . Discrimination and prejudices will not survive the test of time. ” p12 Thank you Ernesto! From 2003.

    Pay attention Utah. ‘The State, not surprisingly, declined to offer these justifications, as each has failed rational basis review in every court to consider them post-Windsor, and most courts pre-Windsor.’

    Pay attention Indiana. Whether state statute or constitutional amendment discrimination without substantial basis is still unconstitutional. You’re now spending tons of money/energy and authoring a year of citizen discontent for nothing.

    Like Kern he too lamented/criticized (both at the same time) Windsor for not going further in it’s reach while finding it stood as basis for his ruling. He like others wanted Kennedy to go further which would have been possible with Prop 8 but was improper with Windsor. In Windsor, Kennedy answered the question before him without judicial overreach (as Heyburn did here) which was the constitutionality of a FEDERAL statute.

  10. MikeBoston says

    @DON You are correct. He made a more vague statement in Lawrence and repeated it vehemently in Windsor. Scalia may be a bigot and a religious zealot but he ain’t stupid.

  11. says

    If appealed goes to Sixth Circuit. Sixth ruling could cover four states Ky Tenn Ohio & Mich. Michigan case (DeBoer) is coming up this month and it included a separate portion dealing specifically with standing.

    This ruling only applies to out-of-state marriages being legally recognized. Cross the border and you’re suddenly unmarried, really silly actually.

    Heyburn strongly hinted that couples that have been denied the right to marry can/should sue to overturn other portions of the ban.

    Ky officials haven’t issued a statement about whether or not they’ll appeal this ruling. It’s secretly hinted about that both Gov Beshear & AG Conway are marriage equality supporters.

  12. Lexis says

    So basically, any couple with a tank or two of gas will soon be able to go over the border to Illinois, get married, and return married?

    Also, that’s one of the gayest state flags I’ve ever seen.

  13. JNJ says

    I have worked on both Beshear’s campaign and Jack Conway’s when he was running against that witch of a woman, Northrop. I have also had the pleasure on being locker mates at a local fitness center with Jack and can attest that both men are, indeed, supporters of marriage equality.

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