Kentucky Same-Sex Marriage Recognition Order Now Stayed Until March 20

Two weeks after a federal district court judge found that Kentucky’s refusal to recognize legal same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions lacked any constitutionally acceptable justification, he declined to stay his ruling.

[Editor's note: The following day, however, the judge did in fact issue a stay, giving the state until March 20, which he characterized as “proper time to administratively prepare for compliance.”]

In a brief order issued on February 27 but dated the day before, Judge John G. Heyburn II of the Western District of Kentucky wrote of the state’s recognition ban, “those laws violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and they are void and unenforceable.”

Also on February 27, the state of Kentucky asked Heyburn to stay his order for 90 days to give it time to decide whether to pursue an appeal to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is already weighing the State of Ohio’s appeal to a similar ruling from last summer. Heyburn's order made no mention of the state's motion, and its current status is unclear.

[It was in response to that motion that on February 28 Heyburn issued the stay until March 20. Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway said he would decide within a matter of days whether the state would appeal Heyburn's February 12 decision.]

“We are cautiously optimistic,” said Dan Canon, an attorney for the four lesbian and gay couples who brought suit after their out-of-state marriages were denied recognition, according to USA Today. “The order has been granted without qualification and without a stay.”

Recent marriage equality decisions in Virginia, Oklahoma, and Texas were stayed by the district courts that issued them in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s decision to stay a Utah decision that neither the district court nor the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals had stayed. In the several weeks between the Utah ruling and the Supreme Court action, more than 1,300 gay and lesbian couples married there.

Heyburn this week also established a schedule for hearing a new case brought by same-sex couples seeking the right to marry in Kentucky.