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February 12, 2014

Judge: Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages

FRANKFORT, Ky. — A federal judge says Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, even though he stopped short of forcing the state to allow the unions within its own borders.

Ruling in a case brought by four gay and lesbian couples, U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II struck down a 1998 Kentucky law and part of a 2004 amendment to the state Constitution that defines marriage as a union between "one man and one woman." He cited the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last year that overturned part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in ruling that Kentucky violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In a memo accompanying his order, Heyburn wrote, “recognizing same-sex marriage clashes with many accepted norms in Kentucky." He acknowledged that many Kentuckians will be “confused – even angry” about his decision. But, he added, “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.”

The 23-page opinion did not say that Kentucky must permit same-sex marriage - only that it must recognize those performed elsewhere.

Seventeen states currently allow same-sex marriage. Officials in Nevada said this week they will no longer defend their state's ban on same-sex marriage in federal court. Several others recognize civil unions, domestic partnerships or same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.

Reaction to the judge's ruling in Kentucky was mixed, though some of it was pitched.

State Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, took to the state House floor to say Kentucky should appeal the ruling to uphold its Constitution and the will of its people. He said the ruling “breaks my heart.”

Most of the Republicans in the House and many in the gallery gave Lee a loud ovation.

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