Movement last week on the same-sex marriage issue in Kentucky presents great potential—but possibly some risk—for LGBT people in the state, Fairness Campaign director Chris Hartman said.
A federal judge issued an opinion last week that Kentucky must recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages. The plaintiffs’ attorneys said the opinion also strikes at the framework of Kentucky’s 2004 same-sex marriage ban. On Friday, two couples who’ve been denied marriage licenses in Louisville asked to join existing litigation.
The concern, Hartman said, is for backlash from opponents and even a sense of complacency among supporters on other LGBT issues—namely, the matter of anti-discrimination.
You said over the summer that same-sex couples may not be able to get married in all states for decades. Have recent events made move that up?
“Substantially. Judge Heyburn’s ruling is such that it most likely opens the door for a case that would actually sanction marriage in Kentucky. I definitely think the timeframe is closer to a few years when all states recognize same-gender marriage rights. Which would be a unique situation if we have full marriage rights for folks but don’t have anti-discrimination protections. It could result in a quasi-new Jim Crow era, where folks will have all of the same benefits as other spouses, but could still be denied service at a restaurant or a place to live.”
Is there a concern, then, that having same-sex marriage allowed could lead to complications with other LGBT issues?
“There does become a problem when folks feel emboldened by the fact that they have a certain set of rights, meaning marriage rights, to think that things are OK and that the work is done. But what we see in legislation that’s been proposed in other states are places where there is backlash, and we could see some more strident moves towards discrimination in public places against LGBT people.
“It’s why it is so necessary to continue the battle to pass these simple anti-discrimination fairness ordinances, so that everybody gets to have a fair shake at earning a living and putting a roof over their heads, eating at their favorite restaurants without the fear of being turned away because of who they are.”
Fairness Campaign, and you, have put a priority over the marriage issue, right?
“Yes, largely because we knew that the marriage issue would be fought and won in the court system. There’s not a huge role we can play there. We’re not a legal firm and we don’t employee lawyers. We knew that cases would be brought before the Kentucky courts, as they were, to challenge the constitutional ban, which we knew was unconstitutional when it passed by ballot referendum 10 years ago. And so we knew all that was going to play out in the courts, and that’s best because public opinion has already spoken on the marriage issue in Kentucky.
“Where there is support among the public amongst the public and where there is growing support at an exponential level is for the simple anti-discrimination ordinances. So in terms of what Kentuckians can actually do to influence the legislative process in the state, it is to support the fairness laws and to work to get those passed. The courts will take care of the marriage issue.”
What do you think are the prospects for statewide fairness legislation in the General Assembly?
“I think that we’re looking on probably a three- to five-year timeframe to pass the fairness law here in Kentucky. I think this session, if the House doesn’t allow the hearing in the judiciary committee to move forward, I think the people will be greatly surprised, given the fact that the number of cities in the state doubled last year that have fairness protections, that the number of co-sponsors on the statewide fairness legislation has almost doubled overall, adding seven new co-sponsors in the House.”
And you’re still working with local communities, right?
“We anticipate passage of a fairness ordinance in Danville in a couple of months. Berea will probably finally pass their fairness ordinance. They’ve never taken a step backwards, but they’ve only been inching forward on their anti-discrimination law. We anticipate that’ll pass this year and potentially one other city.”