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By Rachel Aretakis | Editor-in-chief
Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, saying part of the state’s ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II struck down part of a state constitutional amendment, saying that it violated the Equal Protection Clause guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
The Kentucky amendment was approved by voters in 2004, banning gay marriages and making marriages valid in the state only if they were between one man and one woman.
Judges recently overturned same-sex marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma, ruling that they violated the federal Constitution. Heyburn’s ruling does not go that far, but it could allow legally married gay couples such benefits as inheritance rights, spousal health insurance and Social Security benefits.
The plaintiffs in the case brought before Heyburn were four “average, stable American families” who were lawfully married in other places, he wrote.
“For many years, many states had a tradition of segregation and even articulated reasons why it created a better, more stable society,” Heyburn wrote in the ruling. “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’s ruling falls in line with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June, which struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, paving the way for same-sex married couples to receive federal benefits.
“It’s just becoming more and more clear that it is unconstitutional to deny people the same rights as others on the basis of an arbitrary trait or arbitrary identity,” said Kyle Kleisinger, the president of OUTsource, a campus group that aims to provide a safe environment for individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, transgender or queer.
Kleisinger, a psychology and international relations senior, said OUTsource is not very active in the marriage equality movement because there are much larger LGBT issues to worry about. He cited violence, hate crimes, employment discrimination and safety as examples.
“Frankly, in order to get married, you need to feel safe going out on a date,” he said. “If you don’t feel safe going out on a date because your culture is discriminatory and you don’t have the structures in place to protect you, it’s hard to be thrilled about marriage equality.”
But Wednesday’s ruling is exciting, he said. “We’re happy about it. But we recognize there’s a lot more that needs to be done.”
The Family Foundation of Kentucky issued a statement that denounced the ruling, saying it “nullifies the right of Kentucky to determine policies regarding marriage.”
“I think a lot of people are rolling their eyes because we have judges now deciding things that were formally passed in a democratic process,” said Martin Cothran, a spokesman for the Family Foundation, in an interview with the Kernel. The conservative nonprofit advocates for the traditional definition of family.
Seventy-five percent of voters OK’d the 2004 amendment, a “huge voter approval,” he said. “The court is basically dismissing the voters’ rights to participate in the process.”
The majority of Kentuckians still oppose same-sex marriage, according to a recent poll.
The poll, conducted by SurveyUSA for the Lexington Herald-Leader, WKYT-TV and two Louisville news organizations, found that 55 percent of voters don’t think same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, according to the Herald-Leader. Of the 1,082 registered voters polled, 35 percent favored same-sex marriage and 10 percent were unsure.
“With every person coming out of the closet, they are educating others about the culture,” said Wade Arnold, a 2013 UK graduate with a degree in biology. Arnold, who lives in his hometown of Florence, came out as gay in 2010 and said he hopes Kentucky will legalize gay marriage so that one day he can get married here.
“Because of this being struck down, because gay marriage is going to be recognized, gay couples are going to be able to be more free,” he said. “They don’t have to be secluded.”
In Kentucky, he said, three places are open about homosexuality: Lexington, Louisville and Northern Kentucky. Everywhere else, he said, is behind the times.
“I think Kentucky on this point is very divided,” Arnold said.
“It’s going to take time,” he added. “But it’s still progress and it’s still coming.”