Lawyers will appeal a federal judge's ruling that Kentucky's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, but they won't be state Atty. Gen. Jack Conway's lawyers.
In a news conference Tuesday that ended with tears streaming down his face, Conway said that defending the state's ban "would be defending discrimination."
Conway, a Democrat, began choking up when he mentioned his wife and how he had prayed over a tough decision. (Video of his news conference is shown above.)
"In the end, this issue is really larger than any single person, and it's about placing people above politics," Conway told reporters. "For those who disagree, I can only say that I am doing what I think is right. In the final analysis, I had to make a decision that I could be proud of -- for me now, and my daughters' judgment in the future."
However, Kentucky's ban is not yet done in court.
Immediately following Conway's announcement, Gov. Steve Beshear said outside attorneys would be hired to defend the law at the appellate level, according to the Associated Press.
U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II, who overturned the ban on Feb. 12, had issued a 21-day stay on his order while the state made its decision on an appeal.
The Democratic governor said in a written statement that the potential for "legal chaos is real" if a delay is not issued in the case while it is appealed.
Aside from the legal wrangling, Conway's announcement touched on an element that has loomed large in Kentucky's debate over same-sex marriage: history.
Supporters of the state's ban, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2004, have cited a need to stick to tradition and defend a way of life shared by many of the state's Christian residents.
But Heyburn said that nothing could justify discrimination:
"For years, many states had a tradition of segregation and even articulated reasons why it created a better, more stable society," Heyburn wrote. "Similarly, many states deprived women of their equal rights under the law, believing this to properly preserve our traditions.
"In time, even the most strident supporters of these views understood that they could not enforce their particular moral views to the detriment of another's constitutional rights. Here as well, sometime in the not too distant future, the same understanding will come to pass."
It was this sense of the shifting currents of history, and Heyburn's legal logic, that Conway said he ultimately found impossible to argue against Tuesday.
"From a constitutional perspective, Judge Heyburn got it right, and in light of other recent federal decisions, these laws will not likely survive upon appeal," Conway said. "We cannot waste the resources of the office of the attorney general pursuing a case we are unlikely to win."
Same-sex-marriage bans have not one a single major ruling since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act last summer.