, Corbin, KY

State News

March 5, 2014

Same-sex marriage decisions

Attorney General won’t appeal but Gov. Beshear will

CORBIN — By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service

Kentucky’s Democratic Attorney General won’t appeal a federal judge’s decision that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states — but Kentucky’s Democratic governor will.

An emotional Jack Conway announced Tuesday morning he will not appeal U.S. District Judge John Heyburn’s ruling or seek any further stays in the implementation of the order. A short time later, Gov. Steve Beshear issued a statement saying he will hire an outside attorney to appeal the decision to the U.S. Sixth District Court of Appeals.

Beshear acknowledged the question of the constitutionality of same-sex marriage will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court and that several appeals are already under way in other states. He said in each of those cases, a stay has been granted to avoid confusion during the interim before the Supreme Court renders a decision.

“I understand and respect the deep and strong emotions and sincere beliefs of Kentuckians on both sides of this issue, but all Kentuckians deserve an orderly process that will bring certainty and finality to this important matter,” said Beshear.

His spokeswoman said he would have nothing beyond that written statement to say on the matter.

Conway earlier won a stay of Heyburn’s ruling to give the state time to implement the ruling but had not indicated he would seek an appeal. Tuesday morning Conway’s office emailed reporters that he would make a statement regarding the ruling at 10:30 a.m.

The second-term Attorney General, who has made clear he’d like to run for governor, also took no questions from reporters, reading from a prepared statement.

“I have evaluated Judge Heyburn’s legal analysis and today am informing my client (Beshear and the state) and the people of Kentucky that I am not appealing the decision and will not be seeking any further delays,” Conway said. “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.”

He became emotional when discussing how he “prayed over this decision” and appreciated support from his wife and others, his voice breaking and tears in his eyes.

Reaction from opponents of same-sex marriage was swift and harsh.

Martin Cothran of the Family Foundation has been critical of Conway’s handling of the case from the start. Tuesday he accused Conway of “spiking the case,” adding it is “a shame” the state will have to hire an outside attorney and criticized Conway’s decision.

“The voters have been disenfranchised and the Attorney General said today that he is not going to do anything about it,” Cothran said.

Paul Chitwood, executive director of the 750,000-member Kentucky Baptist Convention, said Conway’s decision is “inexcusable.”

“He should serve the people of the commonwealth to defend the constitution of the commonwealth,” Chitwood said. “For him to refuse to do that is inexcusable.”

Chitwood said the several other cases and rulings by federal judges don’t justify Conway’s decision, adding he thinks those judges’ rulings are incorrect anyway.

On Feb. 12, Heyburn ruled Kentucky’s ban on recognizing valid same-sex marriages performed in other states violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and last week entered his final order.

The ruling does not require — at least for now — Kentucky to perform such marriages. But Heyburn has allowed other same-sex couples seeking such a ruling to intervene in the original case, something Beshear noted in his prepared statement Tuesday.

“Judge Heyburn also currently has under consideration the broader question of whether Kentucky’s provision prohibiting same sex marriage in Kentucky violates the U.S. Constitution, and I anticipate that decision in the near future,” Beshear said.

Heyburn’s final order says that to the extent Kentucky law and Section 233A of the Kentucky Constitution “deny validly married same-sex couples equal recognition and benefits under Kentucky and federal law, those laws violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and they are void and unenforceable.”

The ruling throws out parts of a 1998 law and a 2004 constitutional amendment (Sec. 233A) which define marriage as “between one man and one woman.”

Conway last week won a 21-day stay in the order to allow the state and local officials time to implement the ruling.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at

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