LOUISVILLE, Ky., July 1 (UPI) -- Kentucky must allow same-sex couples to marry, a federal judge ruled Tuesday, staying his order until an appeals court rules in similar cases.
The state will appeal Senior U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II's decision, a spokesman for Gov. Steven Beshear said. Kentucky has already appealed the judge's February ruling that it must recognize legal same-sex marriages contracted in other states.
Oral arguments are set for Aug. 6 in Cincinnati on the Kentucky appeal and other cases.
Maurice Blanchard, one of the plaintiffs, said he was "elated and relieved" by Heyburn's decision. Blanchard and his partner, Dominique James, sued after they were turned down for a marriage license last year.
Heyburn, who was appointed to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush, framed the issue as one of protecting minority rights.
"In America, even sincere and long-hold religious beliefs do not trump the constitutional rights of those who happen to have been out-voted," he wrote in his opinion.
Same-sex marriage is now legal in 18 states and the District of Columbia. Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, legal challenges have been filed in every state where gays and lesbians are still barred from marrying.
Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry, said judges have now reversed marriage bans in 20 states. In Oregon and Pennsylvania, state officials decided against appealing.
Heyburn ruled that an amendment to Kentucky's constitution adopted in 2004 and a 1998 law that bars same-sex couples from the legal benefits off marriage both violate the U.S. Constitution.