A federal judge today struck down a portion of Kentucky’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II ruled Kentucky should recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, leaving in place the ban on gay marriage within the state itself.
Heyburn stated in a 23-page ruling that refusing to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states treats gay and lesbian spouses differently in a “way that demeans them.”
Conservative groups lashed out against the ruling, saying it violated the rights of states and their voters to set their own laws.
Martin Cothran, an analyst with the Family Foundation of Kentucky, said the ruling “nullifies the right of Kentucky to determine policies regarding marriage,” according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. “This decision puts Kentucky voters on notice that if their reasons for defining marriage as between a man and a woman don’t correspond with the political ideology of liberal judges, their votes don’t count,” Cothran said.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, called the ruling a “deep betrayal of a judicial system infected with activist judges who are legislating from the bench.”
But rulings such as Heyburn’s are becoming increasingly common since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in United States v. Windsor last summer.
In that case, the high court said the federal government had to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in states that allow them. Though the ruling at first appeared to deal only with federal laws and regulations, the basis of the decision has given federal judges broad leeway to repudiate state laws and constitutions that ban gay marriage.
That’s because the Supreme Court cited the constitution’s promise of equal protection under the law when it ruled in the Windsor case. The court said denying gay couples benefits and protections under federal law violated their rights. Even though many states have laws and constitutional amendments defining marriage as between a man and a woman, the Windsor ruling gives same-sex spouses the legal right to challenge those laws in federal court as a violation of their civil rights.
Earlier this week, Attorney General Eric Holder issued instructions for federal employees to treat same-sex and traditional marriages equally, even in states that do not allow same-sex marriage. Between the Windsor ruling and Holder’s broad interpretation of it, the federal government seems to have created a trump card that can be played again and again against state laws protecting traditional marriage.
Cases such as the one in Kentucky are playing out in federal courts all over the country. A judge in Texas heard arguments in a nearly identical case today. Judges in Oklahoma and Utah have issued injunctions against gay marriage bans in those states. According to USA Today, about 50 lawsuits are pending in 24 states right now.