LOUISVILLE, Ky. — U.S. Senior District Judge John G. Heyburn II, a Republican who carved an independent and progressive path in three decades on the federal bench, upholding school desegregation and striking down laws that forbade gay marriage, died Wednesday
, according to U.S. District Court clerk Vanessa Armstrong.
He was 66 and had battled liver cancer.
Heyburn was nominated to the bench in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush at the recommendation of Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., but hardly followed in the conservative senator’s footsteps.
In two of his last major opinions, he struck down Kentucky’s constitutional amendment that barred same-sex marriage within the state and the recognition of same-sex marriages performed legally in other states, saying they violated the right to equal protection under the law by treating gays and lesbians “differently in a way that demeans them.”
While acknowledging that gay marriage clashes with the religious and moral values of many Kentuckians, Heyburn wrote in 2014 that the “beauty of our Constitution is that it accommodates our individual faith definitions of marriage while preventing the government from unlawfully treating us differently.”