Some County Clerks Not Readying to Marry Homosexuals If Supreme Court Rules Favorably

Steve Hoffman officiates at the 2011 wedding of Jamie and Melanie Farrell at his office. (Photo: Michael E. Keating, The Cincinnati Enquirer)
Steve Hoffman officiates at the 2011 wedding of Jamie and Melanie Farrell at his office. (Photo: Michael E. Keating, The Cincinnati Enquirer)

If the Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage in Ohio and Kentucky, local gay couples looking to get married might be welcomed by court officials in some counties, but face a murkier response in others.

“If they do what I hope they don’t do, I’ll weigh my options and look at my statutory duties as county clerk,” said Boone County Clerk Kenny Brown, who opposes gay marriage. “I don’t think I’m the only county clerk in the state who is opposed.”

So it goes in the Cincinnati region. The people who are responsible for marriage licenses and those who perform weddings are divided about what to do if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of gay marriage, as many court watchers predict.

Some say that — aside from needing to redesign a few forms that currently allow only for “husband” and “wife” or “groom” and “bride” — it will be business as usual. Others say they would want clear instructions from state leaders on how to proceed before issuing any licenses.

While the Cincinnati-area divide isn’t strictly by state line — several magistrates in Kentucky told The Enquirer they’d have no hesitation marrying same-sex couples — most of those who expressed hesitation were south of the Ohio River. They also were personally opposed to gay marriage and critical of the Supreme Court for taking up the issue.

“If the Supreme Court rules on this, they are overstepping their bounds,” Brown said. “For the Supreme Court to rule on it is an over-reach and I don’t agree with it. I personally don’t agree with it, and I philosophically don’t agree with it.”

Agree or not, the Supreme Court is set to rule on the matter, and their decision is expected this month.

It’s impossible to know just how the nine-member panel will decide, but most following the debate — including some gay-marriage opponents — say they expect the justices to strike down the gay marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Michigan. Depending on the ruling’s wording, that could pave the way for gay marriage to be legalized nationwide.

If that happens, Campbell County, Ky., Clerk Jim Luersen — who said he would have no problem issuing same-sex licenses — expects that there will be a time lapse before the change would become effective. For example, the ruling could spell out that the Supreme Court’s decision takes effect at a later date — say, in 30 days — which would give state officials time to answer questions and give clear instructions on what the decision means.

But if it turns out that same-sex couples showed up for marriage licenses that very day, Luersen said his office would figure out how to handle it.

“Worst-case scenario, we could improvise,” Luersen said. “Hopefully, we’ll have some direction from Frankfort by that point.”

It’s perhaps reflective of the divide among top state leaders in Kentucky. Attorney General Jack Conway declined to uphold the voter-enacted gay marriage ban, saying it was discriminatory. Gov. Steve Beshear fought for the ban anyway by hiring outside lawyers. Both sides have been equally passionate when talking to reporters about their viewpoints on the matter, but it’s Conway — not the governor — who dictates how county officials handle marriage licenses.

“Once the Supreme Court issues their ruling, it will be reviewed to issue guidance to appropriate state agencies on how to comply if there is a change for Kentucky,” said Conway spokeswoman Allison Martin.

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SOURCE: The Cincinnati Enquirer – Amber Hunt and Amy Scalf

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