Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Opinion

March 22, 2014

Right decision

ASHLAND — A federal judge who has ruled that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries has wisely delayed enforcement of that ruling pending a ruling by a higher court.

While the ruling by U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn of Louisville is consistent with similar rulings in Texas, Utah, Virginia and other states, Heyburn recognized his ruling is being appealed and could be overturned. The Ashland law firm of VanAntwerp, Monge, Jones, Edwards & McCann has been awarded at $100,000 contract by Gov. Steve Beshear to handle the state’s appeals of Heyburn’s ruling, after Attorney General Jack Conway — a likely candidate for governor in 2015 — said he would not appeal Heyburn’s ruling saying doing so would be “defending discrimination.”  Disagreeing with Conway, the governor chose the Ashland firm to handle the appeal for the state.

The latest ruling by Heyburn, a 1992 appointee of President George H.W. Bush, came just two days before gay couples married in other states would have been allowed to change their names on official identifications and documents and obtain the benefits of any other married couple in Kentucky.

Heyburn said he is giving Kentucky more time to officially recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries, saying doing so will allow the law to become settled without causing confusion or granting rights only to have them taken away. Heyburn is right when he said it is “best that these momentous changes occur upon full review” by the courts rather than being implemented too soon or causing confusing changes.

Heyburn said the delay would stay in place until the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati either rules on the merits of the case or orders the stay lifted.

Attorneys Shannon Fauver and Laura Landenwich, who represent the multiple couples seeking to have their unions recognized, said they will ask the appeals court to lift the stay and let Heyburn’s original ruling take effect.

Beshear said in a statement that he appreciates Heyburn granting the stay saying it “will prevent both actual and legal chaos” while the appeal is underway.

“We will continue work on the appeal to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals so all Kentuckians will have finality and understanding of what the law is, both in our Commonwealth and in the United States,” Beshear said.

Heyburn overturned parts of Kentucky’s same-sex marriage ban on Feb. 12 ruling that Kentucky’s ban on recognizing same-sex marriages violated the Constitution’s equal-protection clause because it treated “gay and lesbian persons differently in a way that demeans them.”

Heyburn’s ruling did not deal with the issue of whether same-sex couples could get marriage licenses in Kentucky. That is the subject of a separate lawsuit expected to be resolved by the summer.

Beshear sought the stay saying that allowing recognition of same-sex marriages to go forward before an appeals court reviews the case could cause legal chaos should Heyburn’s ruling be overturned.

Heyburn said the judicial process sometimes operates with “stunning quickness” and other times with “maddening slowness,” but it is the entire process that allows the judicial system and the judges to earn high credibility and acceptance with the public.

“This is the way of our Constitution,” Heyburn said. “It is that belief which ultimately informs the Court’s decision to grant a stay.”

If Heyburn had insisted that his ruling take effect Friday, it would have opened the door for gay couples married elsewhere to receive rights they now are denied in the state. However, if his ruling had been reversed on appeal, the newfound “rights” would suddenly disappear. It is best for a final court ruling has been made on this controversial ruling before implementing it.

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