July 1, 2014 at 1:20 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Court overturns Kentucky ban on same-sex marriage

gavel, gay news, Washington Blade, justice

A federal judge has struck down Kentucky’s down on same-sex marriage (Photo by Bigstock).

A federal judge in Kentucky on Tuesday overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, building off an earlier ruling in which he required Kentucky to recognize out-of-state gay nuptials.

In a 19-page decision, U.S. District Judge Judge John Heyburn II ruled that Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“[T]his Court bases its ruling primarily upon their utter lack of logical relation between the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriages and any conceivable legitimate state interest,” Heyburn writes.

Heyburn stays his decision pending action by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, so no same-sex marriages will take place in the Keystone State at this time.

Notably, Heyburn rejects the notion that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision against the Defense of Marriage Act has any bearing on the fundamental right to marry. That viewpoint differs from other judges who’ve drawn on the decision as a means to strike down state bans on same-sex marriage.

Instead, he rules against state law by determining that laws based on sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny, or a greater assumption they’re unconstitutional.

In February, Heyburn had ruled that Kentucky must recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages in the case of Bourke v. Beshear. Following the ruling, two same-sex couples intervened in the case at the district court level and sought to overturn Kentucky’s ban on marriage equality outright. The case was renamed Love v. Beshear.

Heyburn was appointed by President George H.W. Bush and recommended by now Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Following Heyburn’s initial ruling in February, Tea Party activist emphasized McConnell’s recommendation of the judge in their attempt to unseat him for his U.S. Senate seat.

In the latest ruling, Heyburn addresses the concern that his earlier ruling invoked among some within his state, saying he hopes opponents of same-sex marriage will come to realize the decision won’t affect their freedom.

“Assuring equal protection for same-sex couples does not diminish the freedom of others to any degree,” Heyburn said. “Thus, same-sex couples right to marry seems to be uniquely ‘free’ constitutional right. Hopefully, even those opposed to or uncertain about same-sex marriage will see it that way in the future.”

Although Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway has refused to defend his state’s ban on sam-sex marriage in court, Gov. Steve Beshear has continued to defend the law. Kentucky voters approved the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2004 by a vote of 75 percent.

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals is already hearing cases related to marriage equality with each of the state within the jurisdiction: Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky. Oral arguments are set for August 6.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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