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Kentucky Clerk Continues To Deny Marriage Licenses, Defying Court Order

By John Cheves, Lexington Herald-Leader (TNS)

MOREHEAD, KY — Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis told two couples who asked for marriage licenses early Tuesday that she would not issue them, despite a federal court injunction ordering her to do so.

In a brief but tense encounter between Davis and a couple dozen marriage equality demonstrators, the clerk repeatedly said she was not issuing licenses.

“Under whose authority?” someone in the crowd asked Davis.

“God’s authority,” she responded.

Outside the Rowan County courthouse, more than 100 protesters — some supporting Davis, others opposing her — shouted at one another from across the entrance way.

“Nobody should have to go through this to get a marriage license in 2015. This is kind of ridiculous,” said David Moore, one of the men seeking a license. Moore, who is one of the local couples suing Davis, said he will call his lawyers to ask whether they will pursue contempt of court charges against the clerk.

Davis has refused to issue any marriage licenses in Rowan County since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in June. U.S. District Judge David Bunning has ordered her to resume, an order she unsuccessfully appealed to the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and, over the weekend, to the Supreme Court.

(c)2015 Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Screengrab and video: Kentucky.com/YouTube

State Judge Strikes Down Kentucky’s Ban On Same-Sex Marriage, But Decision Put On Hold

By John Cheves, Lexington Herald-Leader (TNS)

LEXINGTON, Ky. — A Franklin Circuit Court judge on Thursday struck down Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriage, although he immediately put his decision on hold because the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on that ban in less than two weeks.

Judge Thomas Wingate ruled for two Lexington couples who were denied marriage licenses by the Fayette County clerk in 2013 because Kentucky’s constitution was amended by voters to define marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman.

The couples sued Gov. Steve Beshear and Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins, alleging that the state’s treatment of gay men and lesbians is unfairly discriminatory and violates their civil rights under the U.S. Constitution. Wingate sided with the couples, ruling that the marriage ban “lacks a rational basis.”

“This court believes that Kentucky’s statutory and constitutional proscriptions against same-sex marriage violate plaintiffs’ right to equal protection under the law,” Wingate wrote.

“Upon closer inspection, the state’s interest in preserving the tradition of marriage is nothing more than a kinder way of describing the state’s moral disapproval of same-sex couples,” he wrote. “These provisions isolate a group of citizens for no reason other than their shared characteristic of sexual orientation, depriving them of the equal right to marry and enjoy the advantages attached to that legal status. These laws act to exclude, rather than include, on a discriminatory and unsupportable basis.”

Although Wingate granted the couples’ request for summary judgment against the state, he stayed his decision while the U.S. Supreme Court considers a nearly identical federal court challenge to marriage bans in Kentucky and three other states. Oral arguments in that case are set for April 28.

The federal cases are expected to make history because — depending on how far the Supreme Court goes — they could be the final word on whether states must acknowledge a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Thirteen states prohibit gay marriage, including Kentucky.

A federal district judge in Louisville last year ruled in favor of Kentucky’s same-sex couples and struck down the state’s marriage ban. He was overturned by a 2-to-1 decision from the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, setting up the Supreme Court appeal.

The state case before Wingate has proceeded simultaneously, if more slowly.

Attorneys for the couples did not immediately return calls seeking comment Thursday.

David Hardee and Marshall Robertson have lived together in Lexington for more than 25 years. Lindsey Bain and Daniel Rogers have lived together for 20 years and legally married in Connecticut in 2009, although the state of Kentucky does not recognize that marriage.

Beshear responded by reiterating his stance that the U.S. Supreme Court is the appropriate venue for a decision on same-sex marriage. “Judge Wingate was wise to stay the decision pending the ruling from the country’s highest court,” Beshear said.

(c)2015 Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Governor: Kentucky Will Appeal Ruling On Out-Of-State Same-Sex Marriages

By John Cheves, Lexington Herald-Leader

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Democratic Governor Steve Beshear said Tuesday that he will appeal a federal judge’s order requiring Kentucky to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The definition of marriage in Kentucky and other states “will be and should be ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in order to bring finality and certainty to this matter,” Beshear said in a statement. “The people of this country need to know what the rules will be going forward. Kentucky should be a part of this process.”

Beshear said he will ask for an indefinite stay, or delay, in the judge’s order while Kentucky takes the case to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. The order is on hold until March 20.

Beshear will have to hire outside lawyers to pursue the appeal because a tearful Attorney General Jack Conway, also a Democrat, announced minutes earlier that he will not appeal the judge’s order.

Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriage is discriminatory and doomed, and the state shouldn’t waste its limited resources in court trying to save it, Conway said.

U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II “got it right” last month when he struck down a 1998 state law and a 2004 state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, and prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriages from outside the state, Conway said.

“The United States Constitution is designed to protect everyone’s rights, both the majority and the minority groups,” Conway said in a brief statement to reporters, after which he took no questions.

“Judge Heyburn’s decision does not tell a minister or a congregation what they must do, but in government, ‘equal justice under law’ is a different matter,” Conway said.

Conway began to cry as he continued: “For those who disagree, I can only say that I am doing what I think is right. In the final analysis, I had to make a decision that I could be proud of _ for me now, and my daughters’ judgment in the future.”

Religious conservative groups, who pressured Conway to appeal, quickly criticized his decision Tuesday, calling it “a dereliction of duty.”

“Now that Colorado has legalized marijuana sales, how long will it be before Judge Heyburn legalizes marijuana in Kentucky, too, since it’s legal in another state and we have to respect their laws? And of course, now we know that Jack Conway would not oppose it,” said Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

Beshear’s appeal before the 6th Circuit could take a year to 18 months, said Dan Canon, one of the lawyers for the four same-sex married couples suing Kentucky.

“We’re extremely disappointed,” Canon said, “This is essentially a decision to waste taxpayer money defending statutes that are morally reprehensible and constitutionally doomed to fail. Every court to decide this case so far, reviewing state laws that ban recognition of same-sex marriage, has found them to be unconstitutional.”

Simultaneously, Heyburn is considering a related argument from new plaintiffs suing Kentucky for the right to be issued same-sex marriage certificates inside the state. A decision in that case is expected by this summer. It was not clear Tuesday who will continue to argue for the state in that case.

Photo: Jose Antonio Navas via Flickr

Same-Sex Marriages Performed In Other States Now Legal In Kentucky

By John Cheves, Lexington Herald-Leader

FRANKFORT, KY — Same-sex marriages performed in other states are legal in Kentucky under a final order issued Thursday by a federal judge in Louisville.

U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II issued an order Thursday that strikes down portions of a 1998 state law and a 2004 state constitutional amendment defining marriage in Kentucky as between one man and one woman, and that prohibited the state from recognizing same-sex marriages legally performed in other states.

“To the extent (that state laws) deny validly married same-sex couples equal recognition and benefits under Kentucky and federal law, those laws violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and they are void and unenforceable,” Heyburn wrote in his two-sentence order.

Under the ruling, same-sex couples married in other states are now entitled to the legal benefits all other married couples in Kentucky receive, such as the ability to file joint tax returns.

Earlier Thursday, Attorney General Jack Conway asked Heyburn for a stay to delay for 90 days the implementation of his order.

“This will give defendants time to determine if they will appeal the order, and the executive branch time to determine what actions must be taken to implement this court’s order if no appeal is taken,” Clay Barkley, a lawyer for Conway’s office, wrote in a motion to Heyburn.

“Should defendants elect to appeal from any final order, they reserve the right to seek a stay for the duration of an appeal,” Barkley wrote.

Heyburn’s order made no reference to the state’s request for a stay.

Also Thursday, Heyburn issued an order allowing a new group of plaintiffs to join the same-sex marriage lawsuit against Conway and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear. Unlike the original plaintiffs — same-sex couples who were legally wed in other states and wanted Kentucky to recognize their marriages — the new plaintiffs are Jefferson County couples who want Kentucky to issue marriage certificates to same-sex partners.

The resolution of this part of the case could take months, Heyburn said at a hearing on Wednesday.

Earlier Thursday, the conservative Family Foundation of Kentucky issued a statement criticizing Conway for not adequately defending the state’s laws against same-sex marriage after the lawsuit was filed last year, leading to Heyburn’s decision.

“This is a betrayal of Kentucky voters,” said Family Foundation policy analyst Martin Cothran. “The only thing missing is the thirty pieces of silver.”

Allison Martin, a spokeswoman for Conway, said the attorney general and his senior staff discussed the case late Wednesday and concluded it would be prudent to request a stay of Heyburn’s ruling, during which the state could consider “the legal ramifications” of appealing the final order or letting it go into effect.

Conway and Gov. Steve Beshear, both Democrats, are jointly deciding how the state should proceed, Martin said.

Photo: Liveintent via Flickr