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Kentucky to hire outside counsel to defend gay-marriage ban

By Tim Ghianni

(Reuters) - Kentucky's governor plans to hire an outside counsel to appeal a federal court ruling that the state recognize same-sex marriages from other states, after Kentucky's attorney general refused to challenge the decision.

The move by Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, who like state Attorney General Jack Conway is a Democrat, follows a February 27 federal court ruling. The judge who issued that ruling delayed its implementation by about three weeks to allow time for an appeal.

Conway told reporters in an emotional news conference on Tuesday the decision made last month by a federal judge was correct and a formal appeal by his office would be tantamount to defending discrimination.

Conway joined attorneys general from states such as Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Virginia who have also said they will not defend gay marriage bans.

Beshear's office said the outside counsel will ask for a further stay pending the appeal, which could keep the state from recognizing same-sex marriages until the appeals court makes its decision.

"Without a stay in place, the opportunity for legal chaos is real," said Beshear.

Socially conservative politicians in Kentucky have been pushing for an appeal.

"It will be up to Governor Beshear and his outside counsel to determine how to move forward in the case," said the attorney general's spokeswoman Allison Martin.

U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II ruled last month that Kentucky laws that deny the marriages of same-sex couples "violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and they are void and unenforceable.

The decision was part of a string of court victories for gay rights advocates, who are trying to overturn bans on same-sex marriage that are on the books in every state in the deep South.

Seventeen U.S. states and the District of Columbia recognize gay marriage. The trend has gained pace since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that legally married same-sex couples nationwide are eligible for federal benefits.

(Reporting and writing by Jon Herskovitz in Texas; Editing by Scott Malone, Leslie Adler and Andrew Hay)

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