Kentucky governor to appeal gay-marriage ruling after attorney general declines

Beshear.jpg

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear announced Tuesday that he would hire outside counsel to appeal a federal court decision ordering the state to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, moments after the state’s attorney general said he would not appeal the ruling.

“From a constitutional perspective, Judge Heyburn got it right, and in light of other recent federal decisions, these laws will not likely survive upon appeal,” said Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway in a statement. “We cannot waste the resources of the Office of the Attorney General pursuing a case we are unlikely to win.”

With Conway’s announcement, he joins attorneys general in Oregon, Virginia, Nevada and Pennsylvania in deciding not to defend state bans on same-sex marriage or recognition of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Similar decisions were also made by attorneys general in California and Illinois before same-sex marriage was legalized in those states. 

Despite Conway’s decision, Gov. Beshear said the state would move forward with an appeal of the decision to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals using hired outside counsel so the state could be part of a national consideration of the constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage and recognition of legally performed same-sex marriages. 

“Both of these issues, as well as similar issues being litigated in other parts of the country, will be and should be ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in order to bring finality and certainty to this matter,” Beshear said. “The people of this country need to know what the rules will be going forward. Kentucky should be a part of this process.”

The decisions by the two Kentucky Democrats comes after U.S. District Court Judge John Heyburn struck down Kentucky’s ban on recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions earlier this month in a ruling that labeled the state ban as unconstitutional. Heyburn ordered state officials to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed elsewhere in an order handed down Feb. 27. Heyburn put the enforcement of his order on hold until March 20 to allow the state to prepare for implementation. 

Conway’s decision comes after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder gave state attorneys general the green light to stop defending bans on same-sex marriage during a Feb. 25 speech at the winter meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General.

[Photo: Official portrait of Gov. Steve Beshear.]

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's political editor and White House correspondent. He can be reached at jsnow@metroweekly.com.

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