A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and it thus must recognize same-sex marriages performed such marriages performed in other states. The decision stops short of forcing Kentucky to perform same-sex marriages in-state. According to Judge John G. Heyburn II, an appointee of President George H. W. Bush whose nomination was supported by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Kentucky’s amendment that denies recognition to valid same-sex marriages violates those couples’ equal protection under the law:
As in other cases that have rejected the amicus’s arguments, no one in this case has offered factual or rational reasons why Kentucky’s laws are rationally related to any of these purposes. Kentucky does not require proof of procreative ability to have an out-of-state marriage recognized. The exclusion of same-sex couples on procreation grounds makes just as little sense as excluding post-menopausal couples or infertile couples on procreation grounds. After all, Kentucky allows gay and lesbian individuals to adopt children. And no one has offered evidence that same-sex couples would be any less capable of raising children or any less faithful in their marriage vows. Compare this with Plaintiffs, who have not argued against the many merits of “traditional marriage.” They argue only that they should be allowed to enjoy them also.
Other than those discussed above, the Court cannot conceive of any reasons for enacting the laws challenged here. Even if one were to conclude that Kentucky’s laws do not show animus, they cannot withstand traditional rational basis review.
Heyburn dedicated time in his opinion to helping detractors appreciate his reasoning. For example, he explained, when the government attaches civil benefits to marriage, religious definitions can not interfere with how they are distributed:
Our religious beliefs and societal traditions are vital to the fabric of society. Though each faith, minister, and individual can define marriage for themselves, at issue here are laws that act outside that protected sphere. Once the government defines marriage and attaches benefits to that definition, it must do so constitutionally. It cannot impose a traditional or faith-based limitation upon a public right without a sufficient justification for it. 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 beauty of our Constitution is that it accommodates our individual faith’s definition of marriage while preventing the government from unlawfully treating us differently. This is hardly surprising since it was written by people who came to America to find both freedom of religion and freedom from it.
He also addressed the concerns of those who feel one judge should not be able to overturn the will of the people:
So now, the Constitution, including its equal protection and due process clauses, protects all of us from government action at any level, whether in the form of an act by a high official, a state employee, a legislature, or a vote of the people adopting a constitutional amendment. As Chief Justice John Marshall said, “it is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.” Initially that decision typically rests with one judge; ultimately, other judges, including the justices of the Supreme Court, have the final say. That is the way of our Constitution.
According to the interim order issued with the opinion, a hearing will be scheduled in the near future “to discuss the appropriate form of relief and the time of its effect.”
Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) praised today’s decision:
I am proud of the four Kentucky families who are standing up for marriage equality in this lawsuit and of the thousands more who continue this fight every day. Today’s ruling is an important step forward in the march toward recognition of all marriages under the law and full equality in our Commonwealth.