Kentucky governor and attorney general at odds regarding marriage equality

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Two of Kentucky’s top officials, both Democrats, are at odds over the issue of the state’s ban on marriage equality. Attorney General Jack Conway has announced he will not defend discrimination—but Governor Steve Beshear, who wants the United States Supreme Court to decide the issue, plans to hire appeal lawyers himself if he has to.

Conway made his feelings clear at a press conference on March 4, where he stated that if he were to defend the ban, “I would be defending discrimination. That I will not do.”

He continued, “From a constitutional perspective, Judge Heyburn got it right, and in light of other recent federal decisions, these laws will not likely survive upon appeal. We cannot waste the resources of the Office of the Attorney General pursuing a case we are unlikely to win.

“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.

“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.

“I am also mindful of those from the business community who have reached out to me in the last few days encouraging me not to appeal the decision. I agree with their assessment that discriminatory policies hamper a state’s ability to attract business, create jobs and develop a modern workforce.”

Conway had initially sought more time to decide whether to appeal a district court order for Kentucky to recognize out-of-state same sex marriages, but then took a stand opposite Governor Beshear when the latter declared intent to appeal no matter what.

Beshear made his own statement to the press after Conway, in which he said, “Both of these issues, as well as similar issues being litigated in other parts of the country, will be and should be ultimately decided by the US Supreme Court in order to bring finality and certainty to this matter.

“The people of this country need to know what the rules will be going forward. Kentucky should be a part of this process.

“In every other appeal currently in process, a stay has been entered maintaining the status quo until a final decision is reached on appeal. The reason is obvious. 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.”

Due to term limits established by the Kentucky Constitution, Beshear will not be eligible for re-election in the state’s next gubernatorial election in 2015. It is expected that Conway will run for the position.

Cases regarding the broader issue of whether Kentucky should also perform same-sex marriages are still pending in court.

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