FRANKFORT - A state Senate committee gave approval to a bill that would alter Kentucky marriage licenses to accommodate county clerks who don’t want to sign licenses for same-sex couples.

The bill actually calls for two forms of the license, one which would list “bride and groom” and a second which would list “first party and second party.”

But three Senators — including one Republican — want to amend the bill when it reaches the Senate floor to include both of those designations on one form, fearing the two forms would treat opposite-sex and same-sex couples differently.

The measure is sponsored by Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, and is a product of the controversy which arose last summer when Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis spent five days in jail for refusing to issue licenses to same-sex couples following the U.S. Supreme Court decision which made same-sex marriage legal.

As a candidate, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin adopted Davis’ cause and promised to remove clerks’ names from the licenses and soon after his inauguration issued an executive order removing their names. He also suggested making the licenses downloadable from online and to record them with the state Secretary of State rather than with clerks though his executive order didn’t address that.

But county clerks didn’t want to give up the licenses and West’s bill reflects the recommendations of the County Clerks’ Association, according to Leslie County Clerk James Lewis and Bill May, Executive Director of the Association.

West told the Senate Local Government Committee Wednesday that “the clerks seem to want (the two forms). They seem to get a lot of clients and customers who prefer (the bride and groom designation).”

His bill would allow couples to choose which form to use - both would include gender of both parties and neither would require the clerk’s signature.

“The clerks want to avoid asking which is which,” Lewis said - referring to same-sex applicants.

An accompanying marriage certificate would be signed by the clerk when the license is recorded in the clerk’s office.

But Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, asked West if two forms are necessary. He suggested one form including check-off boxes for “bride and groom” or “first party and second party” by which couples could designate their preference.

McGarvey said it would save paperwork and costs as well as protect against a charge of discrimination. He said the bill could be amended on the Senate floor to create the one form with the check boxes.

West, Lewis and May expressed no opposition to McGarvey’s suggestion.

Chris Hartman, Director of the Fairness Campaign, an organization which lobbies for gay rights, told the committee his group would prefer one form like that suggested by McGarvey. He said he could not support two forms which treat different couples differently.

“But by and large, with a lot of those changes, this is a bill we could support,” Hartman said.

When the measure came to a vote, McGarvey, Sen. Denise Harper-Angel, D-Louisville, and Republican Sen. Julie Raque Adams of Louisville all passed, saying they would prefer to vote for a bill amended to reflect McGarvey’s suggestion.

Harper-Angel explained her pass vote saying, “I’m hoping for amendments and I’m hoping they won’t be ruled out of order.”

She was referring to the frustration of the Democratic Senate minority which has frequently been blocked from offering amendments to Republican sponsored bills by rulings of the Senate President.

The bill now goes to the full Senate for action.

A similar bill to West’s has been filed in the House and some form of legislation accommodating the clerks’ objections is likely to pass both chambers.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at

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