LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky's attorney general announced Tuesday that he won't appeal an order to recognize same-sex marriages from other states and countries and he will allow a judge's ruling take effect March 20.
Attorney General Jack Conway's decision means same-sex couples in Kentucky who were married in other states will be allowed to pursue name changes, file joint tax returns with the state, and seek to have names added to birth certificates.
The Democrat said at a news conference that if he appealed, "I would be defending discrimination. That I will not do."
The move comes four days after a federal judge in Louisville gave the state 21 days to implement a ruling overturning a voter-imposed ban on recognizing same-sex unions.
U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn issued a Feb. 12 opinion that Kentucky's ban on recognizing same-sex marriages violated the Constitution's equal-protection clause in the 14th Amendment because it treated "gay and lesbian persons differently in a way that demeans them."
The decision arose from a lawsuit filed by two couples who were married in other states or countries over the past 10 years. The couples sought to force the state to recognize their unions as legal. Heyburn's ruling does not require the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples; that is the subject of a separate, but related lawsuit. Heyburn expects to rule on that issue by summer.
Unless a higher court steps in and stops enforcement of the ruling, the state will have to allow same-sex couples married outside the state to change their names on official identifications and documents and obtain any other benefits of a married couple in Kentucky.
The decision in the socially conservative state comes against the backdrop of similar rulings or actions in other states where same-sex couples have long fought for the right to marry. Kentucky's constitutional ban was approved by voters in 2004 and included the out-of-state clause.
A federal judge in Texas last week struck down that state's gay marriage ban but immediately delayed the implementation of his ruling pending appeals by the state. In January, the U.S. Supreme Court put a hold on a decision in Utah recognizing same-sex marriages.
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