- Associated Press - Friday, February 28, 2014
Same-sex marriage now legally recognized in Ky.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A federal judge on Thursday signed an order directing officials in Kentucky to immediately recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries.

U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II issued a final order throwing out part of the state’s ban on gay marriages. It makes official his Feb. 12 ruling that Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriages treated “gay and lesbian persons differently in a way that demeans them.”

Same-sex couples may change their names on official identifications and documents and obtain any other benefits of a married couple in Kentucky. The order doesn’t affect a related lawsuit seeking to force the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The order came just hours after the Kentucky’s attorney general asked for a 90-day delay. The two-page filing says the delay is sought to give that office time to decide whether to appeal the Feb. 12 ruling and would give the state an opportunity to prepare to implement the order.

Heyburn’s final order did not mention the request for a stay and he had not ruled on it as of mid-afternoon Thursday.

Dawn Elliott, an attorney for one of the couples pursuing recognition of a marriage performed in Canada, praised the ruling.

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Funding after evolution debate spurs ark project

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - The founder of a Bible-themed museum who recently debated evolution with TV’s “Science Guy” Bill Nye says fundraising after the widely watched event helped to revive stalled plans to build a 510-foot replica of Noah’s Ark.

Creation Museum founder Ken Ham said a municipal bond offering has raised enough money to begin construction on the wooden ark, estimated to cost about $73 million. Groundbreaking is planned for May and the ark is expected to be finished by the summer of 2016.

Ham said in a news release that the “high-profile debate helped encourage more of our ministry friends to get involved in the past few weeks.”

“We praise our creator God for His blessings and for the incredible support we just witnessed from our generous supporters around the country,” Ham said.

Reached by phone Thursday, Nye said he was disappointed the project would go forward and said he hoped it “goes out of business.”

“If he builds that ark, it’s my strong opinion, it’s bad for the commonwealth of Kentucky and bad for scientists based in Kentucky and bad for the U.S.,” Nye said. “And I’m not joking, bad for the world.”

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Medical marijuana bill clears Kentucky House panel

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A measure to legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky passed a House committee Thursday, but whether the issue will come up for a vote in front of the full House was unclear.

Known as the Cannabis Compassion Act, the perennial bill is sponsored this year by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, who called the historic passage “a miracle.”

“It was so rewarding to be able to offer the folks who are suffering from so many different medical conditions a little bit of hope,” said the Louisville Democrat.

The bill’s only opposition in committee came from Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, who expressed concerns about the danger of “unleashing a Schedule 1 drug on our communities” and that not enough is known about the drug to support Kentucky research on it.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo later said he was “open to the concept,” but said he didn’t know if the measure would get a vote in the Democratic-led House where the bill is now headed for consideration.

“I think a lot of members are becoming more open to it,” he said, “as we hear the stories from people in our districts that have family members that are positively affected by the use of some of these products.”

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Tobacco plant expansion draws praise from governor

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has been at the forefront of pushing initiatives aimed at reducing tobacco consumption and improving the health of a state plagued by some of the nation’s worst disease rates.

On Thursday, his tone shifted as he praised the economic benefits from a tobacco company’s plans to expand its western Kentucky processing operations for smokeless tobacco products.

The approximately $118 million investment by U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co. will create 42 more jobs at its Hopkinsville plant, which now employs 90 full-time workers. The company plans to build a new processing facility and add on to its existing plant there. Its brands include Copenhagen and Skoal.

Beshear said the investment will make a “significant economic impact” on the state.

“The company has found great success in the commonwealth for decades, and this expansion is further proof that Kentucky is a great place to grow a business,” the governor said.

In recent weeks, however, Beshear has called tobacco use the single-biggest factor contributing to Kentucky’s dismal overall health status. The state, known for producing and consuming large amounts of tobacco, has the worst or near-worst rates for smoking, cancer deaths, heart disease and high blood pressure.