Kentucky’s gay-marriage ban was thrown out Tuesday by a federal judge who derided the government’s arguments as “bewildering,” making the state the 28th in the United States where same-sex weddings are legal.
U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn in Louisville, who in February ruled the state must recognize gay couples who legally wed elsewhere, struck down Kentucky’s in-state ban, delaying the effect of his ruling to let the state appeal. Four federal appellate courts are now weighing the issue, which may wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court as early as this year.
Kentucky, in defending its prohibition, claimed that heterosexual marriages contribute to a stable birthrate and to the state’s long-term economic growth. The judge called those contentions “at best illogical and even bewildering.”
“These arguments are not those of serious people,” said Heyburn, a 1992 appointee of Republican President George H.W. Bush. “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 procreation among heterosexual spouses.”
Challenges to similar decisions are pending before U.S. appeals courts in Chicago, Denver, Cincinnati and Richmond, Va. One or more of those appellate rulings could be accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court for review during its next term, which starts in October.
Same-sex marriage proponents have now won at least 18 consecutive court rulings legalizing gay marriage outright or compelling states to recognize marriages performed elsewhere. Decisions voiding in-state bans in Utah, Oklahoma, Michigan, Virginia, Idaho, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Indiana and now Kentucky are on hold pending the resolution of appeals.
In other states, gay marriage has been legalized through popular vote or legislation.
Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, a Democrat, said after February’s ruling that the state would defend its same-sex marriage prohibitions, even as fellow Democrat Jack Conway, the attorney general, declined to do so.
“We will be appealing the decision” to the appeals court in Cincinnati, Beshear said in a statement Tuesday. The state has hired outside counsel to defend the prohibition.
Conway, in a separate statement, said he stood by his earlier conclusion that Kentucky’s ban is legally indefensible.
“For me, defending this issue meant defending discrimination, and that I will not do,” he said in a statement. “Additionally, discriminatory policies hamper our state’s ability to attract business, create jobs and develop a modern workforce.”
Heyburn, citing his prior ruling and those in other state cases, concluded the Kentucky law violated U.S. constitutional guarantees of equal protection.
The federal appeals court in Cincinnati is already scheduled to hear arguments in August over a March ruling by a Detroit judge striking down Michigan’s ban. Challenges to the Indiana and Wisconsin bans are before an appeals court in Chicago. A federal appeals court in Richmond heard argument over Virginia’s ban in May.
A U.S. appeals court in Denver last week upheld a Salt Lake City judge’s decision to strike down Utah’s ban, and an Indianapolis judge invalidated Indiana’s prohibition. The Denver-based appeals court has yet to rule in a case striking down Oklahoma’s ban.
Gay marriage is incontestably legal in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia.