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Governor, Attorney General Split on Kentucky Gay Marriage Ruling

Governor Steve Beshear will seek outside counsel to appeal a federal judge's ruling that forces Kentucky to recognize same-sex marriages performed outside of the state.

Beshear's decision follows Tuesday's announcement by Attorney General Jack Conway that he would not seek another stay on the decision.

"There are those who believe it’s my mandatory duty, regardless of my personal opinion, to continue to defend this case through the appellate process, and I have heard from many of them. However, I came to the inescapable conclusion that, if I did so, I would be defending discrimination," Conway said in a news conference Tuesday. "That I will not do. As Attorney General of Kentucky, I must draw the line when it comes to discrimination."

"The United States Constitution is designed to protect everyone’s rights, both the majority and the minority groups. Judge Heyburn’s decision does not tell a minister or a congregation what they must do, but in government ‘equal justice under law’ is a different matter."

Conway got emotional and teared up during the press conference as he thanked those who provided counsel to him as he made his decision, including his wife.

"In the end, this issue is really larger than any single person and it’s about placing people above politics. For those who disagree, I can only say that I am doing what I think is right. In the final analysis, I had to make a decision that I could be proud of – for me now, and my daughters’ judgment in the future," Conway said.

Kentucky voters approved a constitutional amendment by an overwhelming margin in 2004 that banned same-sex marriage. While Judge Heyburn's ruling mandates that out-of-state gay marriages be recognized in Kentucky, it does not permit them to be performed. 

Beshear will hire outside counsel to represent the Commonwealth as the case heads for an appeal to the Sixth Circuit US Court of Appeals where it will ask for another stay.

"The question of whether state constitutional provisions prohibiting same sex marriage violate the U.S. Constitution is being litigated across the country," Beshear said in a statement. "Here in Kentucky, Judge Heyburn has ruled that Kentucky’s constitutional provision does so to the extent that same sex marriages legally performed elsewhere are not recognized in Kentucky. Judge Heyburn also currently has under consideration the broader question of whether Kentucky’s provision prohibiting same sex marriage in Kentucky violates the U.S. Constitution, and I anticipate that decision in the near future."

Beshear predicted that an ultimate decision on same-sex marriage will come from the US Supreme Court, but in the meantime, he wants Kentucky to be part of the process.

"The reason is obvious," Beshear said. "Without a stay in place, the opportunity for legal chaos is real. Other Kentucky courts may reach different and conflicting decisions. There is already a lawsuit underway in Franklin Circuit Court, and other lawsuits in state and federal courts are possible. Employers, health care providers, governmental agencies and others faced with changing rules need a clear and certain roadmap. Also, people may take action based on this decision only to be placed at a disadvantage should a higher court reverse the decision."

"I understand and respect the deep and strong emotions and sincere beliefs of Kentuckians on both sides of this issue, but all Kentuckians deserve an orderly process that will bring certainty and finality to this important matter.” 

Watch Conway's announcement: