LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A federal judge Friday gave Kentucky officials 20 days to figure out how to implement his ruling that requires the state to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed elsewhere.
U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II said that while the delay extends "an unconstitutional policy," it allows the state "proper time to administratively prepare for compliance."
Even before the stay was issued, gay couples said they were being turned away by county officials when they attempted to take advantage of an order Heyburn issued Thursday instructing the state to recognize same-sex marriages.
Gov. Steve Beshear and Attorney General Jack Conway had asked Heyburn for a 90-day delay, while the four gay and lesbian couples who successfully sued to have their marriages recognized in Kentucky opposed any stay.
Conway said he will decide within a matter of days whether he will appeal Heyburn's underlying ruling requiring the state to recognize gay marriages, said Allison Martin, a spokeswoman.
Heyburn's stay until March 20 came after a hearing at which Assistant Attorney General Clay Barkley argued that the state needs to meet with local and state agencies to see what laws, rules and policies will be affected and to ensure that all 120 counties respond consistently.
"This is not to frustrate the will of the court, but to ensure we have an orderly process," Barkley said.
But Laura Landenwich, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told Heyburn that same-sex couples would be irreparably harmed by a delay.
"The state already knows how to treat married couples, and all it has to do is treat these couples like married couples," she said in an interview.
Heyburn ruled Feb. 12 that Kentucky laws and its constitutional amendment banning the recognition of same-sex marriages violate the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law. He made that order final Thursday, meaning it was in effect briefly before Friday's stay.
Same-sex couples who tried to take advantage of that window of opportunity found their efforts thwarted Thursday and Friday.
Plaintiffs Luke Barlowe and Jim Meade were turned away from Nelson Circuit Court driver's license office when they tried to changes the names on their licenses, a privilege routinely granted to heterosexual couples when one spouse takes the other's name.
In Jefferson County, Renee Harlow, who was legally married to her spouse in Massachusetts, said County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw's office refused to let them change the deed to their home to say they owned it as a married couple.
Nore Ghibaudy, an office spokesman, said it will follow laws barring the recognition of same-sex marriages "until somebody tells us to do otherwise."
He referred questions to the Kentucky County Clerks Association, whose executive director, Bill May, said it was awaiting guidance from the attorney general's office and other state agencies.
"Everybody is sort of waiting right now," he said. "Nobody wants to deny anyone's rights, but we want to follow the law."
Heyburn's ruling applies only to same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, but two other gay couples have asked Heyburn to allow same-sex couples to marry within Kentucky. A ruling on that portion of the case isn't expected for several months.