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Judge rules Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages

By Dana Ford, CNN
February 12, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
April Dawn Breeden, left, and longtime partner Crystal Peairs are married by the Rev. Katie Hotze-Wilton at St. Louis City Hall on Wednesday, November 5. A Missouri judge on November 5 overturned the state's ban on same-sex marriages and ordered registrars to start issuing licenses to gay and lesbian couples. More than 30 states and the District of Columbia allow marriage for same-sex couples. April Dawn Breeden, left, and longtime partner Crystal Peairs are married by the Rev. Katie Hotze-Wilton at St. Louis City Hall on Wednesday, November 5. A Missouri judge on November 5 overturned the state's ban on same-sex marriages and ordered registrars to start issuing licenses to gay and lesbian couples. More than 30 states and the District of Columbia allow marriage for same-sex couples.
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Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: "Laws treat gay and lesbian persons ... in a way that demeans them," judge writes
  • NEW: A religious leader describes the decision as "tragic and disappointing"
  • Ruling doesn't address whether Kentucky must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples
  • Same-sex marriage is legal in 17 U.S states and the District of Columbia

(CNN) -- A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Kentucky's denial of recognition for same-sex marriages violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law.

The issue was brought to the court by four same-sex couples validly married outside of the Bluegrass State.

"It is clear that Kentucky's laws treat gay and lesbian persons differently in a way that demeans them," wrote U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II.

"Assigning a religious or traditional rationale for a law, does not make it constitutional when that law discriminates against a class of people without other reasons," the 23-page ruling read.

It continued: "The Court concludes that Kentucky's denial of recognition for valid same-sex marriages violates the United States Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law, even under the most deferential standard of review. Accordingly, Kentucky's statutes and constitutional amendment that mandate this denial are unconstitutional."

Heyburn's ruling did not specifically address the issue of whether Kentucky must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The decision was blasted by Paul Chitwood, executive director-treasurer of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, who described it as both "tragic and disappointing."

"As Heyburn declares that the Commonwealth must recognize gay marriages performed in other states, the Constitution of Kentucky is being undermined. This decision moves us down the slippery slope toward launching Kentucky into moral chaos and depriving children of their innate need of both a father and a mother. I pray the appeals process will honor the Commonwealth's constitution and protect her children."

Same-sex marriage is legal in 17 U.S states and the District of Columbia: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

Nevada stops defending ban against same-sex marriage

Worldwide, 16 other countries (and parts of Mexico) also have laws allowing same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships. Most of the nations are in Europe and South America.

Is same-sex marriage no longer a political issue?

CNN's Bill Mears and Kevin Conlon contributed to this report.

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