Kentucky faces gay marriage lawsuit


Alex Coburn

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UPDATE: As of March 19, 2014, Judge Heyburn has issued a stay in the case “Bourke v. Beshear” pending a settlement in the appeals court. Read more here.

Attorney Joe Dunman is from a team of lawyers fighting for four of their clients, all same-sex couples whose marriages were dissolved when they moved to Kentucky, to be recognized as legally married under the state’s constitution. The state refuses to recognize any same-sex couple who was legally married in another state as married. As soon as the couple becomes official residents of Kentucky, their marriage is dissolved.

“I’m passionate about marriage equality because the U.S. Constitution promises freedom and equality for all people, and I think those promises are worth fighting for,” Dunman said. “Unfortunately, many of our laws infringe on those rights and discriminate against unpopular groups like homosexuals. There was a time when many states had laws that prohibited white people from marrying black people. Just as those racist laws were violations of our Constitution, so are laws prohibiting people of the same sex from marrying.”

One of the reasons that this law has been called unconstitutional is the belief that gay couples should be allowed to enjoy the same benefits as heterosexual couples. The rights to hospital visitation, inheritance rights, access to family health coverage, and protection in the event of the relationship ending are just some of the rights that gay couples are denied. An analysis by the New York Times estimated that unmarried same-sex couples will incur an additional $41,196 to $467, 562 in expenses over their lifetime compared to a married heterosexual couple.

Dunman and his team of lawyers are presenting three main arguments:

  1. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution promise that all Americans are entitled to due process and equal protection. If the government passes a law that restricts these fundamental rights, it must have an extremely important reason for doing so.
  2. The laws they are challenging were religiously-motivated. The senators who proposed the law included Biblical references in their arguments, and church and state are supposed to be separate. No particular religious group should be allowed to let their religious views interfere with making fair and just laws.
  3. The Constitution contains the Faith and Credit Clause, which requires states to recognize marriages from other states as valid. If the couple in question is composed of two people of the same sex, the law does not change.

“Attorneys are always reluctant to assume victory, because you never really know how a judge is going to rule. In our case, however, we are confident we will ultimately achieve victory for marriage equality,” Dunman explained. “The tide has already turned. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have already allowed gay marriage and discovered that the world did not end because of it. There is a growing body of judicial opinions that clearly state that same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional. For that reason, even if our case has to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, we are generally confident we will succeed for our clients and all other married same-sex couples in Kentucky.”