Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear [official website] said [press release] Tuesday that the state will hire outside counsel to appeal a federal judge's order to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages to the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website]. Judge John Heyburn of the US District Court for the Western District of Kentucky [official website] ruled [JURIST report] in February that Kentucky's constitutional amendment [text] defining marriage as between "one man and one woman" is a violation of Kentucky law [text] and the Equal Protection Clause under the 14th Amendment [text] of the US Constitution. In his statement Beshear voiced the view that controversy over same-sex marriage "will be and should be ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court." The governor also advocated for a stay of the ruling during the appeal process stating that without it the "opportunity for legal chaos is real." Heyburn on March 1 granted [JURIST report] 21 days for the state to implement the new rule after the state requested a stay of 90 days. Beshear's decision to seek outside counsel in the case comes after Attorney General Jack Conway [official website] informed the governor that he would not continue defending [TIME report] the state's ban on gay marriage.
The heated debate over same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder] is one of the most polarizing issues currently facing the American legal community, with legal challenges currently before numerous state and federal courts. Last month a judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Texas [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that a Texas constitutional amendment similar to the one in Kentucky violates the federal constitutional guarantee of equal protection and due process. Also in February Virginia appealed [JURIST report] a federal ruling against the state's same-sex marriage ban. A week before Oregon's Attorney General announced [JURIST report] her intention not to defend the state's ban on same-sex marriage in court. Since July attorneys general in Nevada, Virginia and Pennsylvania [JURIST reports] have made similar decisions not to defend bans on same-sex marriage. Also in February a federal judge in Illinois ruled [JURIST report] that same sex couples in Cook County could be issued marriage licenses immediately, rather than wait until June, when the state's same-sex marriage law goes into effect.