A federal judge ruled against a portion of Kentucky's ban on same-sex marriage recognition on Wednesday, declaring that a provision that bars the state from recognizing legally-conducted same-sex marriages from other states is unconstitutional. Like most recent decisions in favor of marriage equality, U.S. District Court Judge John G. Heyburn cited the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause. "It is clear that Kentucky’s laws treat gay and lesbian persons differently in a way that demeans them," Heyburn wrote.
In his decision, Heyburn wrote that "even under the most deferential standard of review," Kentucky's refusal to recognize valid same-sex marriages from other states violates the constitution's equal protection guarantees. The judge also addressed the incremental way in which equal marriage questions are making their way through the court:
Judicial thinking on this issue has evolved ever so slowly. That is because courts usually answer only the questions that come before it...Each of these small steps has led to this place and this time, where the right of same-sex spouses to the state-conferred benefits of marriage is virtually compelled.
The decision will not force the state to allow gay couples to get married in Kentucky, as that question wasn't part of the lawsuit challenging Kentucky's ban. The decision pertains only to the portion of the state's 2004 constitutional amendment that addresses Kentucky's recognition of existing same-sex marriages, legally performed elsewhere.
There are a number of other recent legal developments in the state-by-state fight for same-sex marriage rights. Kentucky's decision comes on the same day that many awaited a Texas judge's ruling on a challenge to the state's gay marriage ban. In Louisiana, a LGBT rights announced a planned lawsuit on Wednesday against the state's ban on recognizing legally-performed same-sex marriages from other states. State law requires same-sex couples who file federal taxes jointly to file as "single" for state purposes. And the state only allows children of same-sex couples to have one legally-recognized parent. Two cases in Oklahoma and Utah challenging same-sex marriage bans there will go before a federal appeals court in April.
Earlier this week, Nevada's Republican governor and Democratic attorney general announced that they would drop their defense of the state's gay marriage ban, clearing the way for it to eventually be overturned. (As of now, the ban remains in effect). The state withdrew its earlier brief to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals after a recent court decision rendered their arguments for the ban "no longer defensible.”