As previously reported, attorneys for Greg Bourke and Michael DeLeon, both 55, filed the legal challenge last August, contending that Kentucky’s current statute violates the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.
“Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Kentucky,” states a constitutional amendment passed in 2004. “A marriage between members of the same sex which occurs in another jurisdiction shall be void in Kentucky.”
Bourke and DeLeon have been together for a reported 31 years and had a 2004 ceremony in Canada, where same-sex “marriage” is legal.
However, because Kentucky will not recognize their union as a marriage, the men stated in their lawsuit that they are being deprived of a number of benefits that are afforded to heterosexual couples. Bourke has two adopted children, but the state will not recognize DeLeon as a parent, and the men are also not qualified for certain tax breaks afforded to families.
“We feel like victims of discrimination,” Bourke told the Associated Press. “That’s what this lawsuit is about, not being treated equally under the law.”
On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge John G. Heyburn II, nominated by then-President George H.W. Bush, agreed with Bourke and DeLeon, asserting that the law is unconstitutional.
“Many Kentuckians believe in ‘traditional marriage … [and] what their ministers and scriptures tell them: that a marriage is a sacrament instituted between God and a man and a woman for society’s benefit’” Heyburn acknowledged. “They may be confused—even angry—when a decision such as this one seems to call into question that view.”
“[But while] each faith, minister and individual can define marriage for themselves, once the government defines marriage and attaches benefits to that definition, it must do so constitutionally,” he said. “It is clear that Kentucky’s laws treat gay and lesbian persons differently in a way that demeans them.
Heyburn asserted that while “religious beliefs … are vital to the fabric of society … assigning a religious or traditional rationale for a law does not make it constitutional when that law discriminates against a class of people without other reasons.”
However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who had recommended Heyburn to the bench 22 years ago, said in a statement that he disagreed with the judge’s conclusion.
“I am a traditionalist and support that position,” he said, “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.”
“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,” McConnell vowed.
Martin Cothran, an analyst for the Family Foundation of Kentucky, likewise told the Courier-Journal that the decision “puts Kentucky voters on notice that if their reasons for defining marriage as between a man and a woman don’t correspond with the political ideology of liberal judges, their votes don’t count.”
The lawsuit did not seek to legalize same-sex “marriage” in Kentucky, but only centered on recognizing licenses issued out-of-state.