Order to Recognize Same-sex Marriages in Kentucky is Stayed for 20 Days.

Breaking News!
4:26 p.m

Kentucky must recognize all legal out-of-state marriages regardless of the mix of the sexes involved by March 20, 2014.

On February 27, 2014, Federal Judge John G. Heyburn, II issued a historic final order declaring null and void, Kentucky’s statutes and Constitution forbiding the state to recognize legal out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples. In an earlier Memorandum & Opinion on February 12, the Judge found that no state purpose was served by such discrimination. The carefully reasoned and sensitively written memorandum is destined for the history books.

Immediately following the final order, the Office of Kentucky’s Attorney General filed a request for a 90-day stay in order to give the Commonwealth time to consider whether or not to appeal the judgment and to allow time to prepare for implementation of that order. In a hearing today at the Federal Courthouse in Louisville, Judge Heyburn granted a short stay. For all the happily married same-sex couples, the doors are opening wide to all of the rewards, civic, financial, and emotional, of their commitment. The order granting stay can be viewed here.

In contrast to their earlier filing, at today’s hearing the Commonwealth did not ask for time to consider an appeal, but only for additional time to allow an orderly process to implement the order and to and to minimize any confusion that might arise. The Commonwealth gave no indication of its position on appeal and emphasized more than once that it did not intend to frustrate the will of the court. Advocates for the married couples pointed out that the Commonwealth already had two weeks to prepare, and that there would be no impermissible injury to the state, only possible inconvenience. Against any speculative harm to the state was clear irreparable harm to the married couples. Examples given included noting that that income tax time was nearly upon us at which time which the couples would lose the benefit of being able to apply as married on their state tax returns. Additionally, for one couple expecting a baby in April, the opportunity to list two parents would be lost.

Mr. Stan Cave, author of the amicus brief from the Family Foundation, an organization whose animus towards gays is in my opinion apparent, appeared to this non-lawyer to fear a legal slight of hand. If the Commonwealth took 90 days to decide whether to appeal the final decision or not, the 30-day period to file notice of appeal would have past! Clearly that conservative organization is applying as much political pressure as it can to force the Commonwealth to appeal Judge Heyburn’s decision to give equal civil rights to married same-sex couples in Kentucky.

Why does KHPI care?
Of course, it is easy to get excited about a historic advance in civil and human rights in Kentucky, but this notice appears on my Healthcare Blog for two principal reasons. Family relationships and the stability they endow are important determinants of health. Despite this truism of the importance of family structure, KentuckyOne Health, one of the largest healthcare systems in Kentucky, withholds healthcare benefits for same sex partners of employees even if they are legally married in another state. KentuckyOne follows the religious directives of its parent company, Catholic Health Initiatives. So it was that employees of University of Louisville Hospital in committed same-sex relationships or marriages a woke up in 2014 to find they had lost the health insurance coverage and other benefits than had been provided for years by the University. I asked KentuckyOne earlier what it intended do given the new law of the earthly land, but have not yet had a response.

From my perspective as a physician and a human being, this is a great day for Kentucky.  I have posted various documents related to this case and will add additional commentary at a later time.

Peter Hasselbacher, MD
President, KHPI,
Emeritus Professor of Medicine, UofL
Feb 28, 2014