Kentucky Senate Votes to Create Separate Gay Marriage License

The bill would create two licenses, one that lists a "bride and groom" and another that lists a "first party and second party."
February 19, 2016, 5:45pm
Chris Tilley/Reuters

The Kentucky Senate approved a bill on Wednesday that would create a separate marriage license application for gay couples in the state and would remove county clerks' names and personal information from the licenses, a measure inspired by Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis's protest last year over having to marry gay couples.

The bill will still have to pass the state's House, which is controlled by Democrats, and receive approval from Republican Gov. Matt Bevin before it is signed into law, but opponents of the bill already say it is unconstitutional, setting up a legal fight over the separate-but-equal licenses.

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According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, the bill would create two licenses, one that lists a "bride and groom" and another that lists a "first party and second party."

The state's former governor, Steve Beshear, a Democrat, changed the traditional "bride and groom" language on the licenses in the summer of 2015, following the Supreme Court's gay marriage decision, to make it more inclusive. The proposed legislation would bring back the traditional language, and couples would be allowed to choose which form to use.

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"Quite frankly, [the change was] almost disrespectful to the traditional family," said Republican state senator John Schickel, of Union, according to the Associated Press. "That's why, wisely, we decided to have two forms. That has nothing to do with bigotry, nothing to do with discrimination. It has to do with the vast majority of Kentuckians that respect traditional marriage."

The Senate voted 30–8 to approve the bill.

"Separate forms for gay and lesbian Kentuckians constitute unequal treatment under the law," Michael Aldridge, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said in a statement after the vote. "Pure and simple, this bill is motivated by the desire to accommodate discrimination against same-sex couples."

The Kentucky Senate, the statement added, was "setting a dangerous slippery slope precedent" of giving privileges to one religious belief over another.

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Davis's refusal to issue marriage licenses to gay couples following the Supreme Court's gay marriage decision last year sparked rallies outside the Rowan County courthouse, where she was remanded to jail in contempt of court. The rallies drew the attention of then–presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, and scored Davis a visit with Pope Francis on his trip to the United States in September.

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The ACLU sued Davis for acting with "careless disregard for" four gay couples who were denied marriage licenses by her.

Bevin, a conservative who took office in December, issued an executive order in his first weeks in office to remove county clerks' names from marriage licenses.

Democratic state Senator Gerald Neal, of Louisville, said after the vote that the two forms were a bad idea and that "separate has never been equal," according to the AP.