“Separate but equal” marriage license bill moves to Senate floor with bipartisan support

Frankfort, Ky. (AP) – Kentucky lawmakers want to create two marriage license forms, one designed for gay couples and another for straight couples, in a move critics say harks back to the “separate but equal” days of the civil rights movement.

One marriage license form would note the “bride” and “groom” and the other form would note “first party” and “second party.” Bill sponsor Republican Sen. Stephen West of Paris said couples, both gay and straight, could use either form.

The bill also removes the name of the county clerk who issued the license and would require couples to note their gender, no matter what form they chose, for the benefit of historians and genealogists who use marriage license records for research purposes.

The proposal cleared a Senate committee with bipartisan support. It comes five months after Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis spent five days in jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of her religious beliefs, despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that effectively legalized gay marriage nationwide.

Davis did not attend the hearing, although West said he did seek her input when writing the bill.

Former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear changed the marriage license form after the Supreme Court ruling to remove references to “bride” and “groom” and replaced them with “first party” and “second party.”

“The (county) clerks seem to want this. They have clients and customers who would prefer the other form,” West said. “No one is precluded.”

Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign, said he is concerned the bill would offer disparate treatment of gay couples.

“Separate has seldom been equal,” he said.

One solution, offered by Democratic state Sen. Morgan McGarvey of Louisville, was to have one form with a box next to a person’s name to check “bride,” “groom” or “spouse.”

“You can avoid confusion and avoid the potential for any disparate treatment of groups,” he said.

Leslie County Clerk James Lewis, vice president of the Kentucky County Clerk’s Association, said he has no problem with McGarvey’s idea. West said he would consider amending the bill.

Bevin, in one of his first acts as governor, issued an executive order that removed the names of county clerks from marriage licenses. But Bevin said he wants the legislature to make the change permanent by passing a law.

West’s bill now heads to the Senate floor. Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said the House would likely pass its own version, meaning the proposal’s final approval could drag on until the end of the session in April.

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