The Freedom to Marry in Kentucky

Winning Marriage: June 26, 2015

The United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the freedom to marry nationwide on June 26, 2015, allowing all same-sex couples in Kentucky the ability to marry once and for all. The decision followed nearly two years of marriage litigation in the state and was issued in a case that originated in Kentucky.

History and the Path to Victory:

  • November 9, 1973: The Kentucky Court of Appeals rules in Jones v. Hallahan that marriages should be restricted to different-sex couples.
  • July 15, 1998: The Kentucky Legislature passes a state statute restricting marriage to different-sex couples.  
  • November 2004: Opponents of the freedom to marry in Kentucky push through Kentucky Constitutional Amendment 1, a constitutional amendment denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry and any other legal family status. The amendment cements clearly discriminatory language into the Kentucky Constitution.
  • 2004-2013: As Americans nationwide engage in conversations about why marriage matters, national and local advocates in Kentucky take strides toward increasing understanding of same-sex couples and their families.
  • April 2013: Polling in Kentucky tracks marked growth in support for the freedom to marry, reflecting the power of the national discussion of why marriage matters.
  • July 26, 2013: Same-sex couples and private lawyers file a federal legal case seeking respect in Kentucky for marriages legally performed between same-sex couples in other states, Bourke v. Beshear. Read the initial complaint – and meet some of the plaintiff families. Later, a related case, Love v. Beshear, is filed seeking the freedom to marry itself.
  • February 12, 2014: U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II rules that Kentucky must respect the marriages of same-sex couples legally performed in other states. Read the ruling. The ruling is appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.
  • July 1, 2014: Judge Heyburn rules in a related case that the state of Kentucky must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The ruling is also appealed to the 6th Circuit. Read the ruling. 
  • November 6, 2014: The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals rules against the freedom to marry in the Kentucky case and three others, becoming the first appellate court in years to do so and setting up a final legal showdown at the United States Supreme Court. Read the ruling.
  • January 16, 2015: The United States Supreme Court grants review of the 6th Circuit’s out-of-step 6th Circuit ruling upholding marriage discrimination.
  • June 26, 2015: The United States Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage for same-sex couples in a case that includes the Bourke case, bringing the freedom to marry to Kentucky – and the entire country – once and for all. Read the ruling here. 

Groups That Actively Worked on Marriage

  • The Fairness Campaign is an organization in Kentucky that advocates for gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights and advocacy organization.
  • The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, membership organization dedicated to defending and expanding individual rights and personal freedoms throughout the country. The ACLU served as co-counsel in the Bourke v. Beshear case.
  • The Campaign for Southern Equality is a national effort to assert the full humanity and equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in American life and to increase public support for LGBT rights.
  • Freedom to Marry was the campaign to win marriage for same-sex couples nationwide.

Audio from the 6th Circuit Hearing on Kentucky's Marriage Ban