Moral Low Ground

US Government

Federal Judge Rules Kentucky Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriage was an unconstitutional violation of LGBT people’s rights.

In striking down Kentucky’s voter-approved constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage, District Judge John G. Heyburn II eviscerated arguments against LGBT marriage equality. Heyburn emphatically rejected the argument made by lawyers for Gov. Steve Beshear that “traditional marriage” — the union of one man and one woman — keeps birth rates stable and helps to ensure the state’s economic success.

“These arguments are not those of serious people,” Heyburn wrote in his ruling.

“Though it seems almost unnecessary to explain, here are the reasons why,” explained Heyburn. “Even assuming the state has a legitimate interest in promoting procreation, the court fails to see, and defendant never explains, how the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage has any effect whatsoever on procreating among heterosexual spouses. Excluding same-sex couples from marriage does not change the number of heterosexual couples who choose to get married, the number who choose to have children, or the number of children they have.”

“The state’s attempts to connect the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage to its interest in economic stability and ‘ensuring humanity’s continued existence’ are at best illogical and even bewildering,” wrote Heyburn.

Judge Heyburn acknowledged the large number of people who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds. But, he wrote, “in America, even sincere and long-held religious beliefs do not trump the constitutional right of those who happen to have been out-voted.”

Heyburn was referring to the 75 percent of Kentucky voters who approved Amendment 1, the state’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Kentucky was one of 11 states that passed such bans during that November’s elections.

The judge added that the gay marriage ban violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law, and has “no conceivable legitimate purpose.”

In addition to being unconstitutional, Heyburn asserted that, “perhaps most importantly, [the ban denies same-sex couples] “the intangible and emotional benefits of civil marriage.”

The case at hand involved Timothy Love and Lawrence Ysunza, a gay couple who have lived together for 34 years and who were denied a marriage license in February by the clerk’s office in Jefferson County, which includes Louisville, the state’s largest city. Co-plaintiffs Maurice Blanchard and Dominique James, together for 10 years, were cited for trespassing when they refused to leave the clerk’s office after they were denied a marriage license. A jury later convicted the couple of trespassing and fined them a penny.

More than just civil rights were at stake. Legal recognition of marriage status is literally a matter of life or death; as Heyburn noted, Love was forced to postpone emergency heart surgery while documents granting Ysunza hospital access and decision-making authority were prepared.

While Heyburn has ruled Kentucky’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, there will be no weddings in the immediate future. The judge stayed his ruling pending the outcome of cases in four states to be decided by the US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in the coming months. One of those cases involves Heyburn’s February ruling that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The plaintiffs in the most recent case, as well as LGBT advocates, hailed Heyburn’s ruling.

“It’s a win and we’re going to win in the end,” Love said following the decision. “Now the headline is, ‘Love wins.'”

Evan Wolfson, founder and president of the LGBT civil rights group Freedom to Marry, said Heyburn’s ruling “underscores that America — all of America — is ready for the freedom to marry, and the Supreme Court should bring the country to a national resolution as soon as possible.”

But opponents of LGBT marriage equality lamented Heyburn’s decision. Martin Cothran of the Family Foundation, an anti-gay group which spearheaded efforts to pass Amendment 1, called the ruling “another indication that we are no longer a nation of laws, but a nation of judges.”

US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also expressed his disappointment.

“The people of Kentucky voted to enshrine in our Constitution that marriage in our state is between one man and one woman,” said McConnell. “I support that position.”

Gov. Beshear, a Democrat, said the state will appeal Heyburn’s ruling.

The Kentucky ruling was the latest in a long string of decisions by federal judges that have struck down states’ gay marriage bans. Last week, Indiana’s ban was ruled unconstitutional. Also last week, a federal appeals court ruled that Utah may not deny same-sex couples their “fundamental right” to marry.

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