Constitutional Law

Kentucky's ban on recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages is struck down

A federal judge has struck down a Kentucky constitutional provision and state law that refuse recognition to same-sex marriages performed in other states.

U.S. District Judge John Heyburn II said the ban violates the equal protection clause, report the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog and SCOTUSblog. How Appealing links to additional news coverage.

The plaintiffs are four same-sex married couples who said they were denied many protections given to married couples under Kentucky law. They can’t claim an inheritance tax exemption, they aren’t covered by state intestacy laws, and, in the event of a spouse’s death, they can’t claim loss of consortium in a civil suit or sue for a fatal workplace injury under state workers compensation law.

Heyburn reviewed the law using a rational basis standard, but found that it failed even that test.

“Usually, as here, the tradition behind the challenged law began at a time when most people did not fully appreciate, much less articulate, the individual rights in question,” Heyburn wrote in the ruling (PDF). “For years, many states had a tradition of segregation and even articulated reasons why it created a better, more stable society. Similarly, many states deprived women of their equal rights under the law, believing this to properly preserve our traditions. In time, even the most strident supporters of these views understood that they could not enforce their particular moral views to the detriment of another’s constitutional rights. Here as well, sometime in the not too distant future, the same understanding will come to pass.”

Heyburn said many Kentuckians believe in “traditional marriage” and “they may be confused—even angry—when a decision such as this one seems to call into question” the view that marriage “is a sacrament instituted between God and a man and a woman for society’s benefit.”

Heyburn said the concerns are understandable but the Constitution does not allow government to impose a faith-based limit on a right without a sufficient justification.

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