Kentucky attorney general will not defend equal marriage ban, state enlists outside legal help

Attorney General Jack Conway said to defend the state ban would be "defending discrimination"

Topics: equal marriage, Marriage equality, Gay Marriage, LGBT Rights, lgbtq rights, Kentucky, , ,

Kentucky’s Democratic governor announced Tuesday that the state plans to hire outside legal counsel to defend its ban on equal marriage since the state attorney general has refused to do so.

“I understand and respect the deep and strong emotions and sincere beliefs of Kentuckians on both sides of this issue,” Gov. Steven Beshear said in a statement on the decision to bring in outside lawyers.

As the New York Times reports, Attorney General Jack Conway, also a Democrat, said that he will not appeal a court ruling that required Kentucky to recognize gay couples’ marriages performed outside the state, explaining that to challenge the ruling would mean “defending discrimination.” The ruling invalidated only part of the equal marriage ban, but a second case before the court seeks to overturn the law’s prohibition on gay couples marrying in the state.

“Judge Heyburn got it right,” Conway said in a statement. “The United States Constitution is designed to protect everyone’s rights, both the majority and the minority groups.”

Conway is the seventh attorney general to decline to defend a state ban on equal marriage, a move that recently received the blessing of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

“Engaging in that process [of determining if a law is discriminatory] and making that determination is something that’s appropriate for an attorney general to do,” Holder commented last week. “If I were attorney general in Kansas in 1953, I would not have defended a Kansas statute that put in place separate-but-equal facilities.”



For Conway, the decision not to defend the ban seemed both professional and personal. “In the final analysis, I had to make a decision I could be proud of, for me now and for my daughters’ judgment in the future,” he said.

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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