Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed outside the state, a U.S. district judge ruled Wednesday.
Judge John Heyburn ruled a portion of the state's constitutional amendment, which bans recognition of same-sex marriages, violates the equal protection clause of the constitution.
“Plaintiffs do not seek the right to marry in Kentucky,” Heyburn said in his 23-page ruling. “Rather, they challenge the State’s lack of recognition for their validly solemnized marriages.”
He added: “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. Accordingly, Kentucky’s statutes and constitutional amendment that mandate this denial are unconstitutional.”
Heyburn said he is not alone in the ruling, heavily citing a decision by the Supreme Court last year invalidating portions of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage at the federal level between one man and one woman.
He said all federal courts that have ruled on same-sex marriage since the Supreme Court’s decision have decided in favor of gay-marriage rights.
Judges in Utah and Oklahoma have recently ruled both states’ marriage bans are unconstitutional, but the decisions have been stayed pending appeal from the 10th Circuit.
Last year, an Ohio judge ruled the state’s ban on recognizing same-sex marriage from out of state was unconstitutional in relation to death certificates.
In 2004, Kentucky voters overwhelmingly approved of a constitutional amendment that said only marriage between one man and one woman would be recognized in the state.
But Heyburn said the ban demeans same-sex couples, who miss out on a number of state benefits. While the federal government now recognizes same-sex marriages in every state, some benefits are only eligible if same-sex marriages are recognized in the state itself.
In the end, Heyburn ruled Kentucky’s reasoning to preserve “traditional” marriage was not a valid justification. He cited previous arguments in favor of segregation and the deprivation of women’s rights.
“In time, even the most strident supporters of these views understood that they could not enforce their particular moral views to the detriment of another’s constitutional rights,” he wrote. “Here as well, sometime in the not too distant future, the same understanding will come to pass.”