FRANKFORT (AP) — Kentucky’s leaders on Wednesday took a step toward defusing controversy over the licensing of marriages between partners of the same sex, when a state House committee advanced a measure calling for one marriage license form for both gay and straight couples.
Gov. Matt Bevin endorsed the single-form version, which was unanimously approved by the House Judiciary Committee in a bipartisan vote and then advanced to the full House for consideration. The Republican governor chose it over another version backed by the GOP-led state Senate that calls for separate forms.
On the House version, a marriage license applicant would have the option of checking “bride,” “groom” or “spouse” beside their name.
Bevin said legislation instituting one marriage form is “the best way” to resolve the matter.
“I offer my support for a single form and look forward to signing this legislation and allowing our county clerks to follow the law without being forced to violate their own conscience,” the governor wrote in a letter to the committee chairman, Rep. Darryl Owens, a Democrat from Louisville.
The proposals are a response to the controversy last year surrounding Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who spent five days in jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Davis said she could not issue the licenses because they had her name on them.
The legislation would remove the names of county clerks from marriage licenses.
The one-form alternative was proposed by Democratic Sen. Morgan McGarvey of Louisville.
“It’s more efficient, it’s less expensive and it puts everybody on equal footing,” he said.
McGarvey’s proposal was rejected last month when the Senate opted for the version to create two forms from which couples could choose. Under the Senate’s version, one form would list a bride and groom and the other would list “first party and second party.”
The sponsor, Republican Sen. Stephen West, has said couples, both gay and straight, could use either form. But critics said the proposal harkened back to the “separate but equal” days of the civil rights movement.
West, whose district includes Rowan County, said Wednesday he needed time to review the House version. His underlying goal is to resolve the issue, he said.
“I’ve never been totally against one form,” West said in an interview. “I’m going to keep an open mind and read the bill.”
The Democratic-controlled House will likely take up the issue in coming days, said House Speaker Greg Stumbo.
“It just needs to be done and we move on,” he said.
Soon after taking office late last year, Bevin ordered the state to prepare new marriage licenses that do not include the names of county clerks. The executive order was an attempt to protect the religious beliefs of Davis and other local elected officials.
Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, a gay-rights group, said Wednesday that the single-form option is “smart, efficient and accommodates everyone equally.”
He applauded the bipartisan support for the proposal in committee.
“While we may disagree on some issues, we can certainly come together to create common-sense solutions to some of the problems facing our commonwealth,” Hartman said.