Federal Court rules Kentucky must recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, according to a ruling Wednesday by a federal judge, who struck down part of the state ban. Huffington Post reports, Kentucky Ban On Recognizing Out-Of-State Gay Marriages Struck Down By Federal Judge:

EqualIn a 23-page Memorandum Opinion (.pdf) issued Wednesday, U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II concluded that the government may define marriage and attach benefits to it, but cannot "impose a traditional or faith-based limitation" without a sufficient justification for it."

"Assigning a religious or traditional rationale for a law does not make it constitutional when that law discriminates against a class of people without other reasons," wrote Heyburn, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush.

The decision in the socially conservative state comes against the backdrop of similar rulings or actions in states around the country where same-sex couples have long fought for the right to marry. The constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was approved by voters in 2004 and included the out-of-state clause.

The decision came in lawsuits brought by four gay and lesbian couples seeking to force the state to recognize their out-of-state marriages.

The ruling only requires Kentucky to recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples performed in other states or countries. It does not deal with the question of whether the state can be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as that issue wasn't brought up in the four lawsuits that triggered the ruling.

Heyburn noted that recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings and his opinion in the Kentucky case "suggest a possible result to that question."

With Heyburn's ruling, Kentucky becomes one of 10 states where state or federal courts have reached similar conclusions about same-sex marriage bans.

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Shannon Fauver, the attorney for the couples seeking recognition, said the ruling applies the constitutional principle that religion cannot be imposed on citizens.

"In theory, same-sex and opposite sex couples should have the same rights," Fauver said. "We're so excited. Legally, I don't think he had a choice. He had to rule in our favor."

Judge Heyburn decided the case on 14th amendment equal protection analysis, and said he did not need to address the other legal theories raised by the plaintiffs. The Judge applied the rational basis of review, which is the most deferential to government action (U.S. v. Windsor requires a heightened scrutiny standard of review). "In the end, the Court concludes that Kentucky’s denial of recognition for valid same-sex marriages violates the United States Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law, even under the most deferential standard of review."

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