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"Separate Marriage Licenses for Gays" Passes Senate; One Local Republican Votes Against

The state Senate moved to change Kentucky marriage licenses on Thursday, passing a bill that would remove county clerks’ names from the license forms while creating a separate document for same-sex couples.

Senate Bill 5 passed, 30-8. It seeks to codify Governor Matt Bevin’s December 23 executive order while making adjustments in response to last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage. As such, the bill would provide for two different marriage license forms. One would identify the couple seeking the license as “bride” and “groom.” The other would be gender neutral.

Provisions of the bill would also remove the clerk’s name from the form, though individual clerks could add it later if they desired. That issue rose last summer when Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis made a national stink about the Supreme Court ruling and refused to issue licenses to same-sex couples.

Proponents praised it as a win for religious freedom including Senate President Robert Stivers II (R-Manchester) who supported the bill and was among those who viewed it as a positive step forward.

“There are individuals out there that want to have their union recognized, and that is the law and we will abide by it,” Stivers said. “But there are people in this state, [that] have religious beliefs and convictions,” he added, and the traditional “bride/groom” form affirms their beliefs. 

State Senator Wil Schroder, a Wilder Republican, voted against the measure. All other Northern Kentucky Senators, including Chris McDaniel (R-Taylor Mill), John Schickel (R-Union), and Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown), voted in favor of the bill. An amendment to the bill, filed by Louisville Democrat Morgan McGarvey, would have eliminated the need for two forms and would have instead allowed for those seeking to be married to check either "bride", "groom", or "spouse". It was defeated 23-15.

Republican Julie Raque Adams of Louisville also voted against the bill. Democrats Robin Webb of Grayson, Johnny Ray Turner of Prestonburg, Dorsey Ridley of Henderson, Dennis Parrett of Elizabethtown, and Ray Jones of Pikeville joined the Republican majority in supporting the bill.

SB5 became a priority after last summer’s Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. Following the decision, a handful of county clerks refused to issue the licenses embossed with their names, citing their faith and Davis was later jailed for five days by a federal judge for contempt for refusing Judge David Bunning's order to resume issuing licenses to single-gender couples.

Senate Bill 5 now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Staff reports and information from the Legislative Research Commission