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Overruled: Gov. Says Kentucky Will Appeal Same-Sex Marriage Order

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear
Bill Greenblatt
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear says his state will hire outside counsel to appeal a federal judge's order to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages.

The governor's announcement follows word from the state's attorney general, Jack Conway, that his office will not pursue such an appeal.

Both men are Democrats.

After Conway said Tuesday that appealing the court order would mean "defending discrimination," Beshear issued a statement that read, in part:

"The question of whether state constitutional provisions prohibiting same sex marriage violate the U.S. Constitution is being litigated across the country. Here in Kentucky, Judge Heyburn has ruled that Kentucky's constitutional provision does so to the extent that same sex marriages legally performed elsewhere are not recognized in Kentucky. Judge Heyburn also currently has under consideration the broader question of whether Kentucky's provision prohibiting same sex marriage in Kentucky violates the U.S. Constitution, and I anticipate that decision in the near future.

"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 U.S. 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."

There's the potential, Beshear added, for "legal chaos" as other lawsuits are filed in both state and federal courts. "I understand and respect the deep and strong emotions and sincere beliefs of Kentuckians on both sides of this issue," he wrote, "but all Kentuckians deserve an orderly process that will bring certainty and finality to this important matter."

According to NPR member station WFPL, the split between Conway and Beshear "is part of an ongoing divide among [Kentucky] Democrats, which reflects urban and rural differences across the state ... as much as ideological ones." The station adds that:

"Conway and Beshear's decisions cannot be divorced from the larger political calculus. In next year's gubernatorial race Conway is a rumored candidate and Beshear's son is seeking to succeed Conway for attorney general."

The senior Beshear is prohibited by Kentucky's constitution from seeking a third consecutive term.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.