A federal judge has struck down Kentucky's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, though the court issued a stay with its decision, meaning couples cannot yet apply for marriage licenses in the state, according to Equality Case Files, which posted the decision.
In February, U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn determined that Kentucky's refusal to recognize the validity of legal same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, but did not weigh in on the legality of the state's ban on performing same-sex marriages.
Today's decision, in the recently combined case known as Love v. Beshear, is in response to an intervening complaint filed in February by two same-sex couples who wanted to marry in Kentucky, but were unable to do so thanks to the state's prohibition on same-sex marriage, which is enshrined in state statute and the state Constitution. The couples essentially piggybacked on the existing case, which was brought by four same-sex couples and challenged the state's refusal to recognize legal same-sex marriages performed in other states.
The couples in the intervening complaint, Timothy Love and Lawrence Ysunza, and Maurice Blanchard and Dominique James, “say they should be allowed to join the earlier lawsuit in the interest of ‘judicial economy’ and because there are issues common to both cases,” Louisville's Courier-Journal notes. They are represented by the same attorneys who handled the case for the four couples in the original suit.
In a 19-page ruling, Judge Heyburn rejects arguments that allowing same-sex couples to marry in any way harms heterosexual couples or the institution of marriage.
"Assuring equal protection for same-sex couples does not diminish the freedom of others to any degree," Heyburn writes in his decision. "Thus, same-sex couples’ right to marry seems to be a uniquely 'free' constitutional right. Hopefully, even those opposed to or uncertain about same-sex marriage will see it that way in the future."
Kentucky's Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, previously announced plans to appeal Judge Heyburn's February ruling and is expected to file an appeal on this latest order as well. When the state's Democratic attorney general announced that he would not defend the state's anti–marriage equality laws in court back in March, the governor said he would hire outside counsel to defend the state's existing law. Writing on behalf of the state, that counsel argued that marriage equality threatens the economic security of the state by hindering the state's birth rate.