Feb 28, 2014 6:00 AM
LOUISVILLE (AP) - Kentucky is under a judge's order to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries, but it's likely to be a while longer before couples can begin filing for name changes on official identifications and documents.
Clerks of court are awaiting direction from state officials that the 10-year-old ban on recognizing same-sex marriages is no longer enforceable after a federal judge on Thursday officially struck it down. Until such guidance is issued, the hands of county employees around Kentucky are tied, said Nore Ghibaudy, a spokesman for the Jefferson County Clerk.
"We have to follow the law until we hear otherwise," Ghibaudy said. "Whatever it is, we'd have no problem doing it."
U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II prompted the hurry-up-and-wait scenario with a single-page order saying Kentucky's ban on recognizing same-sex marriages is unenforceable. The order made his Feb. 12 ruling official that said the state's ban treated "gay and lesbian persons differently in a way that demeans them."
Same-sex couples may change their names on official identifications and documents and obtain any other benefits of a married couple in Kentucky. The order doesn't affect a related lawsuit seeking to force the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The order came just hours after the Kentucky's attorney general asked for a 90-day delay. The two-page filing says the delay is sought to give that office time to decide whether to appeal the Feb. 12 ruling and would give the state an opportunity to prepare to implement the order.
Heyburn set a conference call among the attorneys for Friday afternoon to discuss the stay request.
Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway said in a statement late Thursday afternoon that he was reviewing Heyburn's order.
"I have 30 days to determine whether or not to file an appeal in this case, which is why I asked Judge Heyburn for a stay of his order this morning," Conway's statement said. "I will be determining promptly, in consultation with Gov. (Steve) Beshear, whether or not to file an appeal in this case."
Dawn Elliott, an attorney for one of the couples pursuing recognition of a marriage performed in Canada, praised the ruling.
"It's a great day to be from the Commonwealth of Kentucky," Elliott said. "I hope that the attorney general and governor that I voted for, don't jump on the appeal bandwagon."
Heyburn's ruling doesn't affect a related lawsuit seeking to force the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Final briefings in that case are due to the judge by May 28.
It was unclear if or how many people would seek to immediately take advantage of the rights recognized in the rulings. Elliott and co-counsel Shannon Fauver said their clients were considering it soon.
The decision in the socially conservative state comes against the backdrop of similar rulings or actions in other states where same-sex couples have long fought for the right to marry. Kentucky's constitutional ban was approved by voters in 2004 and included the out-of-state clause.
On Wednesday, a federal judge in Texas struck down that state's gay marriage ban but immediately delayed the implementation of his ruling pending appeals by the state.
The Kentucky ruling came in lawsuits brought by four gay and lesbian couples seeking to force the state to recognize their out-of-state marriages.
Martin Cothran, a senior policy analyst for the Family Foundation of Kentucky, criticized Conway's handling of the case, accusing him of "spiking" the state's defense by not making persuasive arguments to keep the ban in place.
"The Attorney General's office was clearly not intending to do its job. It only did what it was supposed to do after someone shed light on the fact that he was about to take one more action that favored those who are trying to disenfranchise Kentucky voters on the issue of marriage," Cothran said.
Laura Landenwich, an attorney representing several of the couples who sued, said now that marriages must be recognized, state employees will have to adjust to the ruling.
"It'll be interesting to see what happens," Landenwich said.
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