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Religious Tolerance logo

Marriages in Kentucky

A new marriage form is approved &
distributed for use in county offices:

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wedding rings2015-JAN: About the previous marriage form in Kentucky:

The previous form had two main columns, one labeled "Bride," and the other "Groom." It was designed prior to mid-2015, at a time when marriages were restricted to one woman and one man.

The form also has a line for the county clerk to sign at the bottom. Their signature implied that the clerk has confirmed that the couple met all of the requirements of the state Marriage Act -- namely that

  • Both of their ages were or exceeded the minimum value to marry in the state. This is 18 years without parental consent or 16 years with the consent of at least one parent,

  • They are not first cousins, first cousins once removed, half-cousins, or more closely related, and

  • The marriage would not be bigamous or polygamous. That is, both spouses must not be already married. 1,2

However, Clerk Kim Davis of Rowan County, KY interpreted the presence of a clerk's signature on the form differently. She sincerely believed that it meant that the clerk had actually endorsed and participation in the applicants' future marriage. She felt that she could not do this because of her interpretation of Bible passages that some believe refer to same-gender sexual activity. In common with may other religious conservatives, she beliefs that the Bible prohibits such behavior -- in one place, Leviticus 20, it even calls for the death penalty for both parties. Her belief prevented her from signing any same-sex marriage license. That, in turn, led to a contempt of court citation, to her imprisonment for five days, and a great deal of publicity focused on her, same-sex marriage, and Kentucky. More details.

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2016-FEB-10: A Kentucky Senate committee approved a bill to create a second form, just for same-sex couples:

Senate Bill 5 was introduced in the Senate on JAN-06 by Sen. Stephen West (R). It was forwarded to the Senate's State & Local Government Committee on JAN-08, where it was passed by the Republican-led committee. The bill would have created a second marriage license form to be used in Kentucky county offices to accommodate same-sex couples. It would have columns labeled: "First Party" and "Second Party." Couples would have to record their gender(s) on the bill. However, they would be able to use either form to apply for a license.

Senate Majority Floor Leader, Damon Thayer, said that the Senate:

"... made this one of our priority bills ... And you would have thought, 'Oh they’re gonna rush that bill through and try to get it down to the House.' We did exactly the opposite." 3

Chris Hartman with the Fairness Coalition, a pro-equality group, testified to the Committee. He said that his group would have preferred a single form to handle both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. He said:

"We would prefer to see one marriage license so there’s not even the appearance of disparate treatment. But at the end of the day, all couples are still going to be able to get valid, legal marriage licenses in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. That’s what’s important to us." 3

Creating a separate bill for same-sex couples would probably be a preferred solution by many Republicans and conservative Christians because it would emphasize that same-sex marriages and opposite-sex marriages are different living/family arrangements, and that state forms should be designed to reflect this difference.

Michael Aldridge, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky -- another pro-equality group -- disapproved of the bill. He said:

"Separate forms for gay and lesbian Kentuckians constitute unequal treatment under the law. Pure and simple, this bill is motivated by the desire to accommodate discrimination against same-sex couples. ... [The bill] is setting a dangerous slippery slope precedent by catering to one specific religious belief and privileging that over others." 4

Senator Gerald Neal (D) voted against the bill, saying: "We have bigotry in the commonwealth. ... separate has never been equal."

Senator John Schickel (R) said a single marriage license form would be disrespectful "... to the vast majority of Kentuckians who respect traditional marriage."

Aldridge of the ACLU approved of an amendment by Sen. Morgan McGarvey, (D) to have only one version of the form that would have two columns, each giving three options of which one would be checked of in each column: "bride," "groom," or "party." That amendment was defeated by a vote of 23-15. 4

Senate bill 5 was subsequently passed by the Senate on FEB-18 by a vote of 30 to 8 5

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2016-MAR-23: A committee of the Kentucky House of Representatives approved a different setup:

The House Judiciary Committee approved a different bill promoted by Senator Morgan McGarvey. 6

Under this bill, the columns on the new form would be labeled: "Bride," "Groom," and "Spouse." That would facilitate filling out the form by same-sex couples.

Both the Senate and House bills called for the deletion of the line on the form for the county clerk signature.

This bill would probably be preferred by many Democrats, religious liberals and secularists because it would be compatible with their beliefs that marriages by same-sex and opposite-sex couples are identical in every way except for the gender of the spouses.

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2016-MAR-25: Kentucky House approved the new marriage licence application form:

The House Committee's revised single marriage form was approved in the Kentucky House of Representatives, which is Democratic-controlled. It was approved without debate by a majority vote.

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2016-APR-01: Senate reverses its earlier position and approves a single-form bill:

Governor Bevin (R) issued a statement giving his support to the the concept of a single form. He said:

"My staff has been working collaboratively with Rep. Denham, sponsor of House Bill 258, and Sen. Steve West, sponsor of Senate Bill 5, along with Sen. Morgan McGarvey and the County Clerks Association to craft legislation to address all concerns."

Governor Bevin also said in a written statement to Darryl Owens (D), vice-chairperson of the House Judiciary Committee:

"I offer my support for a single form and look forward to signing this legislation. ..." 7

The single form concept also had the support for the County Clerks Association, the ACLU in Kentucky, and Clerk Kim Davis of Rowan County. 7

Chris Hartman, Executive Director of Fairness Campaign said:

"This is a great day for our commonwealth. By working in a bi-partisan way with all affected communities, we were able to find a common-sense solution that treats everyone with dignity and fairness." 7

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2016-APR-13: Governor Matt Bevin (R) signed the bill into law:

The House version was eventually passed unanimously by both the House and Senate, and was sent to the Governor for his approval or veto. 8

He signed the bill into law, saying that his signature brings:

"... statutory finality to the marriage license dilemma"

and that it allows county clerks to issue marriage licenses without compromising their religious liberty. 9

He said:

"The legislation is a response to Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who spent five days in jail last year for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on her religious beliefs. Davis said she couldn't issue the licenses because they had her name on them." 6

Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, -- the conservative Christian legal defense group who represented Clerk Davis in court -- issued a statement. It closely parallels Kim Davis' beliefs. He said:

"The First Amendment [to the U.S. Constitution] guarantees Kim and every American the free exercise of religion, even when they are working for the government. County clerks should not be forced to license something that is prohibited by their religious convictions. To provide a license is to provide approval and places a legal authority behind the signature. We celebrate this legislative victory. County clerks [in Kentucky] are now able to fully follow the law without being forced to compromise their religious liberty." 10

Webmaster's comment:

Many religious liberal and secularists disagree with this interpretation of the First Amendment. They believe that the Constitution assures freedom of religious speech, writing, assembly, proselytizing, etc. But when a government employee swears an oath of office, they agree to fulfill the requirements of their assignment. For a county clerk, this meant that they had to sign the previous form to confirm that the engaged couple's age, lack of genetic closeness, and unmarried status met the minimum requirements of the law.

This is the first time that I can recall Republicans and Democrats voting unanimously together on any legislation involving gay marriage.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Kentucky Marriage Age Requirements Laws," Find Law, at: http://statelaws.findlaw.com/
  2. "Kentucky Annulment and Prohibited Marriage Laws," Find Law, at: http://statelaws.findlaw.com/
  3. Stu Johnson, "Kentucky Senate Committee Approves Bill to Establish Two Marriage License Forms," WEKU News, 2016-FEB-10, at: http://weku.fm/
  4. "Kentucky Senate approves bill to require two different marriage license forms," Lexington Herald Leader, 2016-FEB-18, at: http://www.kentucky.com/
  5. "SB5 16RS WWW Version," Kentucky Legislature, 2016, at: http://www.lrc.ky.gov/
  6. "House panel advances bill for 1 marriage license form," KLKY, 2016-MAR-23, at: http://www.wlky.com/
  7. Mark Snyder, "KY Senate Unanimously Approves One Marriage License Form," Equality Federation, 2016-APR-01, at: http://www.equalityfederation.org/
  8. "Kentucky will remove county clerk names from marriage licenses," Religious News Service, 2016-APR-14, at: http://religionnews.com/
  9. "Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis Just Officially Won The Same-Sex Marriage License Battle," The Daily Caller News Foundation, 2016-APR-16, at: http://dailycaller.com/
  10. "Kentucky governor signs off on single marriage license form," WLKY, 2016-APR-14, at: http://www.wlky.com/

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How you may have arrived here:

Site navigation: Home > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > Menu > Kentucky > here

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Copyright © 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2016-AUG-08
Latest update : 2016-AUG-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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