What Happened in Kentucky Yesterday

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February 28, 2014
Lambda Legal Counsel Gregory R. Nevins

Update (March 4): Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway announced he won't appeal District Court Judge Heyburn's order to recognize marriages legally entered by same-sex couples in other states. Gov. Steve Beshear said he would hire outside attorneys to appeal the judge's ruling.

Recent developments in the Kentucky lawsuit involving same-sex couples have some people confused. Here’s what happened…

In Kentucky, on February 12, District Court Judge Heyburn issued an opinion saying that Kentucky’s refusal to recognize marriages legally entered by same-sex couples in other states violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. However, he did not issue a final order at that time, but stated that, “The Court will enter an order consistent with this Memorandum Opinion.”

Yesterday, he entered that order ruling that the state of Kentucky must recognize the legal out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples. We applaud the Court in Kentucky for ruling that enforcing a discriminatory marriage ban that refuses to respect married same-sex couples violates the U.S. Constitution. The Court has confirmed that the marriages of same-sex couples will be respected by law of the state where they make their lives as a married couple. This decision, however, can be appealed to the federal Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

The State did file a motion for stay after the February 12 opinion was released, but the Court has not ruled on the stay yet, so the marriage recognition order is now in effect. Unlike in Utah, where couples were rushing to marry in the state before the Supreme Court ultimately issued a stay in that case, yesterday’s decision only impacts same-sex couples already married. If a stay is ordered, it would prevent those couples from having their marriages recognized as the appeal proceeds.

It is also important to note that the Court has now also allowed two unmarried couples to intervene in the case, arguing that they should be allowed to marry in Kentucky. The judge has just established a schedule for hearing the arguments on that question which could significantly broaden the potential impact of this case.

This ruling extends the impressive run of recent victories across the country, stretching from Utah to Virginia. The freedom to marry is indeed coming south and Lambda Legal is working hard to make that happen with lawsuits in both Virginia and West Virginia. We look forward to the continued progress of this case in Kentucky as we continue to make the case for marriage equality across the country.

Learn more about Lambda Legal's national marriage campaign Love Unites US.