Kentucky was ordered by a federal judge to recognize same-sex marriages made in other states as similar challenges were filed in Louisiana and Missouri, escalating litigation over gay rights in courts nationwide.
U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn in Louisville, Kentucky, today said denying recognition to out-of-state same- sex marriages violates the equal-protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution. He also said the in-state ban of gay unions may be vulnerable for the same reason.
Heyburn, a 1992 appointee of former President George H.W. Bush, a Republican, based his ruling in part on the U.S. Supreme Court June decision in U.S. v. Windsor invalidating a law limiting federal recognition of marriage to those between one man and one woman. Every federal court that has considered gay marriage since has ruled in favor of the right, Heyburn said.
Same-sex marriage is now legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Federal court decisions striking down bans in Utah and Oklahoma are on hold while those states challenge the rulings in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver.
Today in Texas, two couples asked a federal court to strike that state’s ban on same-sex marriage. A U.S. judge in Virginia heard arguments on the issue this month, while another federal judge in Detroit will test Michigan’s ban in a non-jury trial on Feb. 25.
Florida’s prohibition is being challenged in a lawsuit filed Jan. 21 and Wisconsin’s in a complaint filed last week.
The Kentucky ruling comes the day the American Civil Liberties Union said it was suing for recognition of out-of- state same-sex marriages in Missouri. A lawsuit filed in federal court in Louisiana today challenged that state’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.
In the Kentucky case, the couples were wed in Iowa, California, Connecticut and Ontario. Each now lives in Kentucky, which they say denies them the rights, privileges and obligations of marriage.
“While Kentucky unquestionably has the power to regulate the recognition of civil marriages, those regulations must comply with the Constitution of the United States,” Heyburn said in his ruling. His decision, in a case filed last year, strikes down a measure enacted in 1998.
Heyburn said the case didn’t raise the question of whether Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional.
“However, there is no doubt that Windsor and this court’s analysis suggest a possible result to that question,” he wrote.
Kentucky Governor Steven Beshear and Attorney General Jack Conway, both Democrats and defendants in the lawsuit, argued that state laws barring same-sex marriages and recognition of those from other states are “valid exercises” of sovereign authority and consistent with the U.S. Constitution.
Democratic attorneys general in California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Nevada declined to defend bans on gay marriage in their states.
“We have just received the opinion and have begun to review it,” Beshear said in a statement. “The judge has not yet entered a final order so it would be premature to speculate on what the next steps may be.”
The case is Bourke v. Beshear, 13-cv-00750, U.S. District Court, Western District of Kentucky (Louisville).
–Editors: Peter Blumberg, Michael Hytha