Kentucky took a step toward fairness and equality for all people this week, as the state will now recognize legal same-sex marriages that are performed in other states. Kentucky’s ban on same-gender marriages was partially struck down on Wednesday, Feb. 12, in a U.S. District Court. That ruling was welcomed by native Kentuckian and officer of the United Church of Christ, the Rev. J. Bennett Guess.
"I could not be more thrilled that a federal judge has moved my home state forward toward greater fairness for same-gender couples," said Guess, executive minister of the UCC’s Local Church Ministries. "While the ruling does not go far enough, at least not yet, it is still a step in the right direction."
District judge John Heyburn II ruled that Kentucky’s lack of recognition of legal same-sex marriages performed in others states violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection to all citizens under the law.
The lawsuit, brought by four couples, asked that the state be required to recognize same-gender marriages performed in other states. However, Heyburn’s ruling does not pertain to Kentucky’s ban, passed by voters in 2004, on performing same-sex marriages because the lawsuit did not challenge that issue.
In addition to Kentucky, there are nine other states where federal or state courts have ruled that same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional, including recent decisions in Utah and Oklahoma, and an imminent decision in Virginia.
"It’s pretty clear today that Kentucky, like the rest of the nation, will see full marriage equality legally recognized, and very soon," said Guess, the UCC’s first openly-gay officer. He legally married his spouse, Jim Therrien, in Massachusetts.
"The courts, especially in southern states, are integral to the fight for equality and always have been," he added. "While the hard, grassroots work of changing hearts and minds must continue, we need a strong judiciary that will ensure that the rights of minorities are protected."
In 1992, while pastor of Zion UCC in Henderson, Ky., Guess co-founded Kentucky’s statewide LGBT advocacy organization, the Kentucky Fairness Alliance. KFA was created, Guess said, in the wake of a landmark Kentucky Supreme Court decision that struck down the state’s anti-sodomy law.
"Kentucky was one of the earliest southern states to rule its anti-gay, so-called 'sodomy law' unconstitutional, a precedent that went on to be affirmed federally by the U.S. Supreme Court," Guess said. "I am hopeful today that Kentucky also might be an early trendsetter in the south for marriage equality."