Federal judge in Kentucky strikes down marriage ban; 23rd pro-marriage ruling in 1 year

Today, July 1, 2014, U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II ruled in favor of the freedom to marry, striking down a constitutional amendment in the state that restricts marriage to different-sex couples. The ruling is stayed pending further action from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Previously, Judge Heyburn struck down the portion of the marriage ban in Kentucky that denies respect to same-sex couples who legally married in other states. Shortly after that ruling (in Bourke v. Beshear) in February 2014, two unmarried couples intervened in the case, which was retitled Love v. Beshear

The Kentucky cases were filed last summer (with the intervening couples granted permission in February) by private lawyers from Clay Daniel Walton & Adams and Fauver Law Office in Louisville, KY. Bourke v. Beshear will be considered by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit this summer, with oral arguments scheduled for August 6, 2014, the same day that oral arguments will be heard in marriage cases from Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. For more information about the 6th Circuit marriage cases, click here.

The ruling reads:

Sometimes, by upholding equal rights for a few, courts necessarily must require others to forebear some prior conduct or restrain some personal instinct. Here, that would not seem to be the case. Assuring equal protection for same-sex couples does not diminish the freedom of others to any degree. Thus, same-sex couples’ right to marry seems to be a uniquely “free" constitutional right. Hopefully, even those opposed to or uncertain about same-sex marriage will see it that way in the future.

The Court’s holding today is consistent with Bourke, although it requires different relief. The ability to marry in one’s state is arguably much more meaningful, to those on both sides of the debate, than the recognition of a marriage performed in another jurisdiction. But it is for that very reason that the Court is all the more confident in its ruling today. 

In the ruling, Judge Heyburn dismantles the arguments that the defendants asserted in their briefs, most prominently the argument that allowing same-sex couples to marry in Kentucky will lower the birth rates in the state. Judge Heyburn wrote:

Perhaps recognizing that procreation-based arguments have not succeeded in any court post-Windsor, Defendant adds a disingenuous twist to the argument: Traditional marriages contribute to a stable birth rate which, in turn, ensures the state’s long-term economic stability.

These arguments are not those of serious people. Excluding same-sex couples from marriage does not change the number of heterosexual couples who choose to get married, the number who choose to have children, or the number of children they have.

Read the full ruling here

This is the 23rd consecutive ruling in favor of the freedom to marry in the past year. For all of the pro-marriage rulings issued since 2013, click here. 

Freedom to Marry founder and president Evan Wolfson applauded the ruling today. He said:

Today a Republican-appointed federal judge in Kentucky held – as have more than 20 other judges and as did the U.S. Supreme Court last year – that discriminatory state marriage bans are unconstitutional. It is wrong for the government to deny same-sex couples the freedom to marry the person they love; a freedom that is part of every American's liberty and pursuit of happiness. Today’s ruling in Kentucky underscores that America -- all of America -- is ready for the freedom to marry, and the Supreme Court should bring the country to national resolution as soon as possible."

For information on all 70+ marriage cases currently working their way through state and federal court in 32 different states and territories, visit our Marriage Litigation resource