Federal Judge Grants Ky. Gov. Beshear Extended Stay in Gay Marriage Appeal

A federal judge in Kentucky granted on Wednesday an extended stay on his February ruling that lifted part of the state's ban on gay marriage, forcing it to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages.

U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II granted lawyers defending the state's same-sex marriage ban an extended stay, agreeing that immediately allowing the recognition of out-of-state marriages in Kentucky pending an appeal could result in "chaos." Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and lawyers from an Ashland-based firm are currently appealing Heyburn's February ruling in the U.S. 6th Circuit of Appeals in Cincinnati.

Heyburn said he granted the stay because he thinks it is "best that these momentous changes occur with full review, rather than risk premature implementation or confusing changes. That does not serve anyone well." Heyburn added that Beshear's lawyers haven't necessarily shown they are likely to win the appeal.

"The Court has concerns about implementing an order which has dramatic effects, then having that order reversed, which is one possibility," Heyburn added. "Under such circumstances, rights once granted could be cast in doubt."

Beshear's lawyers, who requested an extension of the stay that was supposed to expire Thursday, released a statement, saying they "appreciate" Heyburn's decision. The stay will remain effective until the U.S. 6th Circuit of Appeals in Cincinnati dissolves it.

"We appreciate Judge Heyburn granting the stay, which will prevent both actual and legal chaos while the appeal is underway," Kerri Richardson, a spokeswoman for Beshear, said in a statement to The Courier-Journal. "We will continue work on the appeal to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals so all Kentuckians will have finality and understanding of what the law is, both in our Commonwealth and in the United States."

The four gay and lesbian couples who previously won their lawsuit against the state's gay marriage ban opposed the extended stay.

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, who was originally supposed to defend the state's ban on same-sex marriage after Heyburn's ruling, announced earlier in March that he would not be filing an appeal against the federal judge's decision because he found the state's ban to be unconstitutional, and filing an appeal would be "defending discrimination." The ban was passed by 75 percent of voters in 2004.

Shortly after Conway's announcement, Beshear came forward to represent the state in appealing Heyburn's ruling. He said the issue of same-sex marriage "will be and should be ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in order to bring finality and certainty to this matter," adding that "the people of this country need to know what the rules will be going forward. Kentucky should be a part of this process."