When the Supreme Court ruled in June that same-sex marriage was a fundamental right and therefore legal in all 50 states in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, the court was also effectively ruling on Bourke v. Beshear, a case challenging Kentucky’s same-sex marriage ban that had been joined with the Obergefell case before the court.

Legal Background of Bourke v. Beshear

In the Bourke case, Gregory Bourke and Michael Deleon, who had been married to one another in Canada, had filed suit in 2013 in the Western District of Kentucky to have their marriage legalized in Kentucky on behalf of themselves and Deleon’s two adopted children. The Western District court ruled that Kentucky’s marriage laws – which stated that only a marriage between one man and one woman was valid here – were unconstitutional on the grounds that they denied same-sex couples seeking marriage equal protection under the law. In essence, the district court was saying that same-sex couples should be treated as equally as straight couples in having access to marriage.

That ruling was overturned, however, by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard the Bourke case along with several other appeals of rulings from Ohio, Tennessee, and Michigan, all contesting the constitutionality of state same-sex marriage bans. The Sixth Circuit ruled that Supreme Court precedent at that time did not support an argument that such bans either violated the equal rights guarantees of the Constitution, or that same-sex marriage constituted a “fundamental right” such that a state could not ban it.

The Appeals Court recognized that the Supreme Court would likely soon have its say on the matter, meanwhile encouraging a political solution in state legislatures rather than an adversarial fight in the courts.

The Bourke challenge to Kentucky’s marriage laws was then joined with the other same-sex marriage ban challenges in the now-famous Obergefell v. Hodges case before the Supreme Court. Justice Kennedy delivered the 5-4 opinion of the court, reversing the Sixth Circuit’s ruling on Bourke and the Tennessee, Michigan, and Ohio cases, holding that the Fourteenth Amendment requires those states and indeed all states to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully performed and licensed in another state.

Impact on Kentucky Family Legal Matters

The Supreme Court’s historic ruling in Obergefell means that same-sex couples may now obtain a marriage license in Kentucky, regardless of previous laws in the commonwealth. This decision has wide-ranging effect for family law in Kentucky, both for same-sex partners and the children and other relatives of same-sex partners. As the court said in Obergefell, the implications of the ruling include the following: “taxation, inheritance and property rights; rules of intestate succession (how a person’s property is distributed when they die without a valid will or with an incomplete will); spousal privilege in the law of evidence (whether a spouse can be forced to testify against another spouse and regarding what); hospital access; medical decision-making authority; adoption rights; the rights and benefits of survivors; birth and death certificates…workers’ compensation benefits; health insurance; and child custody, support, and visitation rules.”

At Greta Hoffman & Associates, our family law attorneys can help you understand how the new marriage laws will affect the rights of you and your loved ones. Contact the law firm of Greta Hoffman and Associates for a consultation on your Kentucky family law case by calling 859-371-2227 in Florence, or contact us online from anywhere throughout Northern Kentucky.

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