Same-sex marriage in Kentucky
The U.S. state of Kentucky does not recognize same-sex marriages. However, a judge granted a divorce to a same-sex couple. Marriage has been defined by statute to exclude same-sex couples since 1998. Recognition of same-sex relationships under the name marriage or any other designation has been prohibited by the state constitution since 2004.
On February 12, 2014, a U.S. district court ruled that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages established in other jurisdictions. On July 1, the same judge ruled that Kentucky's denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples violates the U.S. Constitution, but stayed the implementation his decision pending appeal. The Sixth Circuit reversed both those decisions on November 6. The same-sex couples have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review that decision. On January 16, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court consolidated these cases with three others and agreed to review the case.
On November 9, 1973, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled in Jones v. Hallahan that two women were properly denied a marriage license based on dictionary definitions of marriage, despite the fact that state statutes did not restrict marriage to a female-male couple. Its decision said that "in substance, the relationship proposed ... is not a marriage."
Since July 15, 1998, Kentucky's statutes have defined marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman, prohibited same-sex marriage and declared it contrary to public policy, and denied recognition to same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.
Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Kentucky. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.
Kentucky's only recognition of same-sex relationships is its extension of hospital visitation rights to same-sex couples through a designated visitor statute.
Bourke v. Beshear
On July 26, 2013, a same-sex couple legally married in Canada filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky challenging Kentucky's refusal to recognize their marriage. Other plaintiffs were later added; the state governor and attorney general were the named defendants. The plaintiffs in Bourke argued that Kentucky should recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions. The case was assigned to Judge John G. Heyburn II.
In a decision issued February 12, 2014, Judge Heyburn found that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions because withholding recognition violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection. His final order, issued on February 27, 2014, made recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages de jure legal; being a final order it was then immediately subject to appeal. Heyburn stayed his decision for 21 days the next day.
On March 4, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway announced that he would neither appeal the state's position nor request further stays. Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear said he would employ outside counsel to appeal Heyburn's ruling in Bourke to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and to request a stay pending appeal. On March 19, Judge Heyburn extended his stay pending appeal, noting the stay granted by the U.S. Supreme Court in a similar Utah case. On the same date, defendants lodged an interlocutory appeal of Bourke in the Sixth Circuit. Oral arguments in the case were held on August 6, 2014.
Love v. Beshear
On February 14, 2014, two same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses in Kentucky asked to be allowed to intervene in Bourke. As Judge Heyburn issued a final order in Bourke, he bifurcated the case and allowed the new plaintiffs to intervene and argue against Kentucky's denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This portion of the case remained in district court, retitled as Love v. Beshear. A briefing schedule on this issue was completed by May 28.
On July 1, Judge Heyburn found in favor of the intervening same-sex couple plaintiffs in Love and ruled that Kentucky's ban on allowing same-sex couples to marry violates the Equal Protection Clause.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals consolidated Love with Bourke v. Beshear. It heard oral arguments on August 6, the same day it heard same-sex marriage cases originating in Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.
On November 6, the Sixth Circuit ruled 2–1 in both cases that Kentucky's ban on same-sex marriage does not violate the constitution. It said it was bound by the U.S. Supreme Court's 1972 action a similar case, Baker v. Nelson, which dismissed a same-sex couple's marriage claim "for want of a substantial federal question." Writing for the majority, Judge Jeffrey Sutton also dismissed the arguments made on behalf of same-sex couples in this case: "Not one of the plaintiffs' theories, however, makes the case for constitutionalizing the definition of marriage and for removing the issue from the place it has been since the founding: in the hands of state voters." Dissenting, Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey wrote: "Because the correct result is so obvious, one is tempted to speculate that the majority has purposefully taken the contrary position to create the circuit split regarding the legality of same-sex marriage that could prompt a grant of certiorari by the Supreme Court and an end to the uncertainty of status and the interstate chaos that the current discrepancy in state laws threatens."
The same-sex couples filed an application for certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court on November 17.
Supreme Court Review
On January 16, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court consolidated these cases with three others and agreed to review the case.
|% support||% opposition||% no opinion|
|New York Times/CBS News/YouGov||September 20-October 1, 2014||1,689 likely voters||± 2.8%||38%||50%||13%|
|Public Policy Polling||August 7–10, 2014||991 voters||± 3.1%||30%||61%||9%|
|Bluegrass Poll||July 18–23, 2014||714 registered voters||± 3.7%||37%||50%||12%|
|New York Times/Kaiser Family Foundation||April 8–15, 2014||891 registered voters||± ?%||38%||54%||8%|
|Bluegrass Poll||January 30-February 4, 2014||1,082 registered voters||± 3%||35%||55%||10%|
|Public Policy Polling||April 11, 2013||27%||65%|
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- Memorandum Order of the United States District Court, Western District of Kentucky, at Louisville, Bourke v. Beshear, Civil Action No. 3:13-CV-750-H, February 12, 2014