Mix of emotional and cautious reactions to federal judge's opinion on Ky. same sex marriage ban

02/12/2014 02:02 PM

(UPDATED) — A federal judge’s ruling to nullify Kentucky’s ban on recognizing same-sex marriages performed outside the commonwealth is getting mixed reviews from interest groups and leaders around the state.

U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II issued a 23-page opinion on the issue Wednesday in which he concluded “Kentucky’s denial of recognition for valid same-sex marriages violates the United States Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law”.

Heyburn was nominated for the judgeship by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in 1992 several years after McConnell encouraged Heyburn to run as a Republican candidate for Jefferson County judge-executive. It was a plan to dissuade Harvey Sloane from running again for that post, as John David Dyche wrote in the Louisville Courier-Journal in 2007.

Heyburn spent his law career from 1976 to 1992 as a civil litigation attorney at Frost Brown & Heyburn, which is now Frost Brown Todd, according to his bio. While he was at the firm, he also served as McConnell’s special counsel in the Jefferson County judge-executive office.

Senator McConnell criticized the opinion of the judge he nominated for the bench, saying Kentuckians voted to add the ban to the state’s constitution arguing only Kentucky residents have that authority.

“The people of Kentucky voted overwhelmingly to enshrine in our Constitution that marriage in our state is between one man and one woman. I am a traditionalist and support that position, but regardless of one’s personal view on the issue, we should be able to agree that only the people of Kentucky, through the legislative process, should have the authority to change the law, not the courts,” McConnell said in a statement from his campaign. “I will continue to support traditional marriage and fight to make sure that Kentuckians define marriage as we see fit and never have a definition forced on us by interests outside of our state.”

The campaign of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes took a middle of the road approach in their response to the decision.

“Alison has been married for seven years and has stated publicly that she wouldn’t want to deny other couples the opportunity to make that same commitment. She’s also made clear that while the Supreme Court has ruled that state sovereignty applies, churches should not be forced to recognize anything inconsistent with their teachings,” Grimes spokeswoman Charly Norton said in a statement.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said the position was “correct, legally:”

Republican Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, said he was sad for his country:

Michael Aldridge, executive director of the ACLU of Kentucky, said it potentially opens the door to same-sex marriages being performed in Kentucky eventually:

Gov. Steve Beshear is still reviewing it:

And so is Senate President Robert Stivers:

In a statement, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Matt Bevin criticized the Heyburn decision and pointed to McConnell’s link to the judge as a negative saying “Kentucky deserves better.”

“I’m deeply disappointed in Judge Heyburn’s decision to overturn Kentucky’s right to determine the definition of marriage within its own borders. This type of judicial activism hurts America’s democratic process,” Bevin said.

Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, praised the decision and expressed his excitement for the couples involved in the lawsuit.

“Today’s ruling is an important step forward in the march toward recognition of all marriages under the law and full equality in our Commonwealth,” Yarmuth said.

(With reporting from Nick Storm and Don Weber in Frankfort and Ryan Alessi in Louisville)


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.