LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A federal judge in Kentucky struck down the state's ban on gay marriage on Tuesday, though the ruling was temporarily put on hold and it was not immediately clear when same-sex couples could be issued marriage licenses.
U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn in Louisville concluded that the state's prohibition on same-sex couples being wed violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution by treating gay couples differently than straight couples. The ruling was the latest in a string of victories for gay marriage advocates across the nation, and marked the most recent conservative state to have its ban overturned.
Heyburn previously struck down Kentucky's ban on recognizing same-sex marriages from other states and countries, but he put the implementation of that ruling on hold. That decision did not deal with whether Kentucky would have to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Instead, Tuesday's ruling dealt directly with that question.
"Sometimes, by upholding equal rights for a few, courts necessarily must require others to forebear some prior conduct or restrain some personal instinct," Heyburn wrote. "Here, that would not seem to be the case. Assuring equal protection for same-sex couples does not diminish the freedom of others to any degree."
Heyburn noted that every federal court to consider a same-sex marriage ban has found it unconstitutional. Gay rights activists have won 18 cases in federal and state courts since the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2013 struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. During that time, only Judge Paul J. Kelly Jr. of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver has argued for keeping a state ban on same-sex marriages.
A total of 13 gay marriage cases are pending in state and federal appeals courts. Those rulings all are on hold pending appellate court decisions.