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July 1st, 2014 By Nick Swartsell | News | Posted In: Courts

Federal Judge Strikes Down Kentucky Gay Marriage Ban

Next showdown will happen at federal appeals court in Cincinnati

Federal Court BuildingThe U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati will hear a number of gay marriage related cases on Aug. 6 - Nick Swartsell

A federal judge today ruled Kentucky’s ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. But same-sex couples in the state can’t get marriage licenses just yet. 

U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II ruled that a 2004 amendment to Kentucky's state constitution prohibiting same-sex marriage violates the guarantee of equal protection under the law found in the U.S. constitution.

It's another sign that the tide may be turning in the region. The decision comes as a similar ban looks to be in serious legal trouble in Indiana, and just before an August federal court date that will decide questions surrounding the issue in Ohio and other states. Since February last year, federal courts have upheld the right to marry for same-sex couples 19 times.

The decision came in response to a challenge to Kentucky’s ban by two same-sex couples. Maurice Blanchard and Dominique James were denied a marriage license on Jan.

2013. They were charged with trespassing after refusing to leave the Jefferson County Clerk’s office after being turned down for their license. A jury eventually found them guilty, though the two were fined only $1. The two other plaintiffs in the case, Timothy Love and Lawrence Ysunza, applied for a license in February 2013. The two have lived together for 34 years.

The plaintiffs and other same-sex couples looking to marry will have to wait a little longer, though. Heyburn has delayed implementation of his decision until after Aug. 6, when a higher court, the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, will hear several gay marriage cases from Kentucky, Ohio and two other states. Those cases will be heard in Cincinnati.

Heyburn, who in February also ruled that the state must recognize same-sex marriages from other states, rejected Kentucky’s reasons for its ban. Lawyers hired by the Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear argued that traditional marriage helps ensure economic stability and a favorable birth rate in the state. The state’s Attorney General Jack Conway refused to defend the law on behalf of the state.

“These arguments are not those of serious people,” Heyburn said in his decision. He said there is “no conceivable, legitimate purpose” for the ban, which keeps same-sex couples in the state from enjoying the economic, social and emotional benefits of marriage. These include tax benefits, the ability to share insurance, the ability to adopt children as a couple and other rights.

The ruling continues a wave of recent decisions by federal courts upholding marriage rights for same-sex couples. But there’s still uncertainty even as the tide shifts. Most recently, on June 25, a judge struck down Indiana’s ban, allowing same-sex couples to immediately apply for marriage licenses. That decision was overturned a few days later on appeal, and couples who married in the three-day window are now waiting for a final decision to see if their marriages are valid in the state’s eyes. Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.

 
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