Back in February, Federal District Judge John G. Heyburn II, a George H. W. Bush appointee, issued a ruling overturning Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriage for the purposes of recognizing marriages performed outside of the commonwealth. Heyburn expanded on that ruling Tuesday in a new finding that the state’s ban on allowing same-sex couples to marry within the state is also unconstitutional, noting that “the ability to marry in one’s state is arguably much more meaningful” than the recognition of a marriage from another state.
As several other judges have done, Heyburn found that “homosexual persons constitute a quasi-suspect class” and thus, heightened scrutiny must apply. This means that sexual orientation, like gender and race, but be held to a certain standard when it seems like a law might target them for discrimination. Still, Heyburn also concluded that Kentucky’s ban fails even if considered under what’s called rational basis review, without consideration of heightened scrutiny.
Heyburn took particular exception to a “disingenuous twist” added to the state’s argument this time, referring to Gov. Steve Beshear’s (D) claim that it’s too expensive to allow same-sex couples to marry. “These arguments,” he wrote, “are not those of serious people,” calling them “at best illogical and even bewildering.” He could think of “no other conceivable legitimate reason” for Kentucky’s laws banning same-sex marriage.
In his conclusion, Heyburn spoke directly to those who objected to his previous decision this year. “In America,” he implored,” even sincere and long-held religious views do not trump the constitutional rights of those who happen to have been out-voted.” “Assuring equal protection for same-sex couples does not diminish the freedom of others to any degree… hopefully, even those opposed to or uncertain about same-sex marriage will see it that way in the future.”
The decision was immediately stayed, so the status quo remains the same for Kentucky same-sex couples for now. The Sixth Circuit will consider appeals for marriage cases in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, and Michigan on the same day in August.