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How new marriage license laws affect couples
A new law in Kentucky changes the marriage license form in order to protect same-sex couples and county clerks alike. - photo by Kelsey Dallas
Kentucky lawmakers revised the state's marriage license policy last week, creating a new process that protects county clerks who object to same-sex marriage without affecting the rights of the LGBT community.

"We now have a single form that accommodates all concerns. Everyone benefits from this common-sense legislation," said Kentucky's Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in an emailed statement, according to Reuters. "There is no additional cost or work required by our county clerks. They are now able to fully follow the law without being forced to compromise their religious liberty."

County clerks' names won't appear on the form, and "applicants can choose between being called bride, groom or spouse," Reuters reported.

Bills like SB216 respond to the legalization of same-sex marriage by making it possible for government workers who oppose the practice on religious grounds to avoid direct involvement in gay or lesbian weddings, as Deseret News National reported earlier this month.

Some require counties to designate a clerk who is willing to serve same-sex couples, while others provide an exemption for clerks without offering a clear backup. A proposed bill in Indiana would have done away with marriage licenses all together, "allowing any two people to be legally wed if they sign a contract in the presence of two others," the article noted.

These bills aren't created equal, and some can leave same-sex couples in the lurch, as Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor at the University of Illinois, noted in a guest column on Mississippi's HB1523 for The Clarion-Ledger.

"Mississippi missteps in offering recusal with so few safeguards. What happens if, in a tiny office, clerks cannot be staffed around so easily? What happens if everyone recuses themselves? And consider the dignity of same-sex couples who legally request marriage licenses only to be told that no one can assist them at this time," she wrote.

However, these same couples can also struggle in the absence of adjustments to marriage license law, like when Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis in Kentucky refused to issue licenses to gay or lesbian couples last year.

"Even though county clerks do not perform marriage ceremonies in Kentucky, she argued that her name on the document equaled her approval," Reuters reported.

Even after four couples sued her, she had her deputies sign the forms in her place, causing same-sex couples to worry that their marriages wouldn't be recognized by the state. "State officials said the licenses would be deemed valid," the article noted.

In order to avoid ongoing legal drama, Kentucky legislators made sure all sides of the same-sex marriage issue had a say in SB216, according to a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky. A diverse group of organizations, including the County Clerks Association, Fairness Campaign and ACLU-KY supported the legislation.

"By working in a bipartisan way with all affected communities, we were able to find a common-sense solution that treats everyone with dignity and fairness," Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, said in the release.
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