After liberal-leaning states in the Northeast, the West and the Midwest legalized same-sex marriage, most people wouldn't have picked conservative Utah and Oklahoma and purple-trending Virginia to be next, let alone Kentucky. Yet recent court decisions have raised questions about those states' bans on gay marriage.
In Kentucky a federal judge this week ruled that the state cannot deny the validity of same-sex marriages performed in other states. The state's ban on performing such marriages is, for now, untouched. But the appeals court decision puts pressure on the state to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states like Massachusetts, where it is legal, when couples relocate to Kentucky.
The federal circuit court in Virginia — which also covers North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia — went further Thursday, ruling that state's ban is unconstitutional. The ruling will likely be appealed, but for now, Virginia is the first state in the South to see its voter-approved constitutional amendment overturned by a federal court.
Massachusetts became the first state in the U.S. to allow same-sex marriages, in 2004. Today 17 states and the District of Columbia allow gays and lesbians to marry. Lawsuits to increase that number have been filed in 24 states.
While the focus now is on the states, the issue will likely be settled in the U.S. Supreme Court, which last year issued a landmark ruling that struck down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and is expected to eventually add the state bans to its docket.