Discussion is ongoing in Louisville as locals respond to the Supreme Court’s historic decisions unveiled June 26 increasing legal recognition of same-gender marriage.
The Supreme Court declared the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional, meaning the federal government must now recognize same-gender marriages. The Supreme Court also refused, on technical grounds, to rule on California’s Proposition 8, thus legalizing gay marriage there.
Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, is a leading marriage-equality activist in Louisville. “It is edifying to see the progress that’s been made by advocates for social justice for so many years,” he said.
Gay couples living in Kentucky but holding a marriage license issued elsewhere will now be eligible for all of the 1,138 federal benefits of marriage. The state, however, will not recognize their marriages.
Greg Bourke and Michael Deleon, of Louisville, married nine years ago in Canada. “I’m still, like a lot of people, trying to assess what this means,” Bourke said.
Partners for 31 years, they have two teenage adopted children. “We remain hopeful that at some point Kentucky will recognize our legal marriage,” Bourke said. “This is our home, so we don’t feel like we should have to relocate to another state just so our marriage license could be considered valid.”
In 2004, Kentuckians voted overwhelmingly for a constitutional amendment that bans same-gender marriage. Hartman said he expects the amendment will remain for many years.
In the meantime, Hartman said, the goal is to get the majority of Kentuckians to support an anti-discrimination fairness law. That would make it illegal to refuse employment, housing or service to individuals based on their gender identity. No state has ever legalized gay marriage without first passing such a law.
A 2010 telephone survey by The Schapiro Group found that 83 percent of registered voters in Kentucky support an anti-discrimination law. Hartman said a proposed anti-discrimination ordinance is making progress in Berea. And the city of Frankfort is on track to pass a similar ordinance as early as August. “It would be illogical,” Hartman said, “for the state legislature to not address the issue.”
Owen Strachan, a professor at Boyce College and executive director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, an evangelical organization, believes true marriage is only between a man and a woman. “Marriage has been defined by God,” he said, “and we can’t redefine marriage.”
Strachan, who considers the Bible to be “the ultimate authority in the world,” said marriage requires not only love and commitment but adherence to Biblical guidelines. “In embracing same-sex marriage,” he said, “America is turning away from wisdom.”
In Strachan’s view, an anti-discrimination law would jeopardize religious liberty. “The irony is that discrimination will happen against the religious person who believes that homosexuality is a sin.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky is planning a panel discussion to be held within the next few weeks in Louisville. University of Louisville law professor Sam Marcosson will explain what the Supreme Court’s decisions mean for Kentuckians. For more information on the event, visit the ACLU of Kentucky online at aclu-ky.org or call the Fairness Campaign at 502.893.0788.