Kentucky's attorney general announced Tuesday he does not plan to appeal an order to recognize same-sex marriages performed out-of-state.
In a news conference Tuesday, Attorney General Jack Conway, a Democrat, said if he appealed, "I would be defending discrimination. That I will not do."
The order, from U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn, was announced in February, and enables gay couples who were legally married in other states or countries but live in Kentucky to change their names on state documents and obtain other benefits given to married couples.
The ruling was slated to take effect March 20. Conway said Tuesday he would allow that.
"Judge Heyburn got it right," Conway, who said he prayed over whether he should appeal the ruling, said. "It's about placing people over politics."
Heyburn issued a Feb. 12 opinion that Kentucky's ban on recognizing same-sex marriages violated the Fourteenth Amendment's equal-protection clause because it treated "gay and lesbian persons differently in a way that demeans them," the Associated Press reported.
He made the order final on Feb. 27, although the following day, he issued a stay after Assistant Attorney General Clay Barkley argued the state needed time to figure out how to implement the ruling consistently from county to county.
The ruling does not mean that Kentucky can issue marriage licenses to gay couples, only that it recognizes gay marriages legally performed elsewhere. Oregon has the same law on its books.
Kentucky's governor, Steve Beshear, also a Democrat, said the state will now hire outside lawyers to appeal the judge's ruling and to submit a new request to have the ruling put on hold.
"The people of this country need to know what the rules will be going forward. Kentucky should be a part of this process," he said in a written statement.
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage. A separate lawsuit, also to be decided by Heyburn, calls for Kentucky to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples; Heyburn expects to rule on that by the summer.
Kentucky's constitutional ban on gay marriage was approved by voters in 2004.
Kentucky is the eighth state where the attorney general has declined to defend a ban on same-sex marriage. Similar positions have been taken in California, Illinois, Oregon, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
-Pete Williams and Elizabeth Chuck
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
First published March 4 2014, 8:42 AM