Senate Bill 5 amended to offer separate marriage license forms, clearing committee

02/10/2016 09:04 PM

FRANKFORT — Couples would pick between two marriage licenses once they tie the knot under a bill passed by the Senate State and Local Government Committee on Wednesday.

The proposed change in Senate Bill 5 would allow newlyweds to choose licenses that identify them as first and second parties or bride and groom, and neither would bear the name of the county clerk.

Sen. Steve West, a Paris Republican and the bill’s sponsor, says he hopes he’s found a compromise resolution on the state’s marriage licenses, an otherwise mundane subject that drew national attention last year as Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis was jailed for six days in September for defying a federal court order to resume issuing the documents.

She cited her religious objections to same-sex marriage, legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court in June, for her blanket refusal.

West’s amended version of Senate Bill 5 passed the Senate State and Local Government Committee on an 8-0 vote with three members voting “pass.”

“All we’ve done is taken the clerk’s name and signature out of the top license section,” West said. “They still have to sign the bottom section where the certificate is. They have to sign — someone in their office, a recorder has to sign at the time of recording.”

Sen. Morgan McGarvey, a Louisville Democrat who voted “pass,” asked West whether he would consider a single form rather than the two currently in the bill, suggesting that couples check boxes to identify themselves on the form.

He said same-sex couples could feel that they’re being treated disparately with separate marriage licenses. A single form would also avoid confusion and duplication, he added.

“It seems to me that may be something we could discuss, potentially even for a floor amendment if possible, would be something where could delete some of the language here, create one form, thereby reducing the duplication of forms,” McGarvey said. “… Some states I know have a box that you can check where it has the person’s name and then it says bride, groom or spouse, and you can check that box.”

West, who testified alongside Kentucky County Clerks Association officials, said many of the state’s county clerks believe their constituents prefer the bridge-groom language on marriage licenses, but the idea of a checkbox section on the form had been considered.

“In the end it was just a preference,” he said, noting he isn’t opposed to such a change. “We just chose to keep the two-form method rather than do the checkbox.”

Asked after the meeting whether he would consider a floor amendment as laid out by McGarvey, West said he would but he couldn’t guarantee its fate. He said he has discussed the legislation with the clerks’ association, Davis and Gov. Matt Bevin, who issued an executive order in December stripping clerks’ names from marriage license forms.

“It’s not a make-or-break issue for me,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with that personally, but I would consult with all the parties involved.”

Adding McGarvey’s proposed change would earn SB 5 the support of the Fairness Campaign. Chris Hartman, director of the group, said the senator covered many of his concerns.

“Having two different forms does create the appearance of disparate treatment,” he said. “At the end of the day we recognize that all couples will still be able to get marriage licenses, and that is what is important to us.”

William Sharp, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky and an attorney in the organization’s lawsuit against Davis, criticized the legislation in the Senate.

It’s unclear how Senate Bill 5 will fare this session.

The legislation is one of the top priority bills in the Republican-led Senate, and Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who is the co-sponsor of a similar bill that would create separate bride-groom and first-party-second-party forms, said the House will likely send its own version of a marriage license bill across the Capitol.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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