By Randy Patrick
Jimmy Lee Meade and Luke Barlowe have been together for nearly 45 years, and they’ve been married since 2009, but Kentucky law doesn’t consider their wedding vows valid.
The two men are determined to change that.
Meade and Barlowe have joined two other gay couples in a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Louisville to try to force the state to accept same-sex marriages that occurred in states with laws allowing them.
The lawsuit challenges a state constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage on the grounds that it violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment.
The other plaintiffs in the case are Gregory Bourke and Michael Deleon, and Randell Johnson and Paul Champion and their four children.
Meade and Barlowe, who once lived in Iowa, were married by a magistrate in Davenport, on July 30, 2009.
Both men are retired professionals and moved to Bardstown seven years ago because they liked the area.
Meade, 64, suffers from non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Barlowe said they were hesitant about joining the suit, but thought it was the right thing to do.
“Jim and I are very conservative socially,” Barlowe said, “but we just never carried a sign. But I’m 71, and this thing came up with these two guys in Louisville (Bourke and Deleon), and Jim and I sat here and talked about it, and I said, ‘Well, we’re going to die, probably here in Kentucky, before anything is ever done here. And now’s the time that if we can make a difference, let’s try.’ ”
So they signed on as plaintiffs in the case that is being handled pro bono by Louisville lawyers Dawn Elliott and Shannon Fauver of the Fauver Law Office.
Fauver said Thursday the lawsuit was filed two weeks ago, but an amendment including Barlowe and Meade as plaintiffs would be filed Friday in the Western District of U.S. District Court. The same day, the attorneys would also file a similar suit in the Eastern District for two Shelby County women, Tamara Boyd and Kimberly Franklin.
The defendants in the Louisville case are Gov. Steve Beshear, Attorney General Jack Conway, Jefferson County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw and Nelson County Clerk Elaine Filiatreau.
“We’re still reviewing that lawsuit and don’t have any further comment on it,” said Kerri Richardson, a spokeswoman for the governor.
State elected officials generally don’t comment on pending litigation.
Filiatreau wasn’t at work Thursday and could not be reached, but Barlowe said he has discussed it with her.
“The way I understand it, if this goes through and is approved, it’s only existing marriages in each state … that should be recognized,” Meade said. “This doesn’t mean that gay marriage would be legal in Kentucky. We would like to see that happen, but this is a first step. The first step would be that Kentucky would have to recognize other states’ marriages.”
Fauver said that is correct. She and Elliott wanted to take the challenge “one step at a time,” she said.
Currently, 12 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriages. So do several western countries, including Canada, where Bourke and Deleon were married.
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Meade and Barlowe said that in addition to states that recognize gay marriage, some allow gay civil unions. In their minds, that isn’t the same as “full marriage equality,” Barlowe said.
“You don’t have the same civil rights,” said Meade, who was an accountant.
Meade said if couples are not legally recognized as married, they are at a disadvantage in terms of taxes, health insurance benefits and in many other areas.
Barlowe, a member of the Nelson County Human Rights Commission, also works with the Kentucky Fairness Campaign, which seeks to overturn laws that discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons.
Fauver said the American Civil Liberties Union is not involved in the Kentucky cases because it doesn’t think the state is one where the challenge would have a good chance of being successful. But the plaintiffs wanted to try.
“We didn’t want to be the last state,” she said.
Communications staff members for Beshear and Conway said Thursday they don’t think the governor and attorney general have issued yet statements in response to the lawsuits or filed answers to the complaints.
Barlowe, who is from Bourbon County and Lexington, and Meade, who is from Letcher County, met in November 1968 in Lexington when Meade was a student at Morehead State University.
“He had come to Lexington for fun and games, and we met, and we’ve been together ever since,” said Barlowe.
They have not been outspoken about their homosexuality and are not seeking publicity now, Barlowe said.
“You won’t see us walking down the street holding hands. We just don’t do those things, though sometimes I would like to,” he remarked.
Still, he said, most people who know them know they’re gay. They’ve known it themselves since they were about 13.
Asked whether homosexuality is something one chooses, Barlowe answered: “No, absolutely not.”
Meade said he thinks most opposition to same-sex marriage is based on passages of the Bible, but he isn’t familiar with them, although he was brought up as a Baptist.
Barlowe said he is “an atheist if ever there was one.”
“I was treated so poorly by churches when I was growing up that there’s no way I could ever be a religious person. I am a good person,” he said.
Barlowe, a former optician, said he is involved in a variety of community services activities. In addition to serving on the Human Rights Commission, he has worked as a nursing home ombudsman, served on a foster care review board and an aging advisory council, and was invited by Kentucky’s first lady, Jane Beshear, to meet her and discuss his work with a program to help people with cancer who are struggling with financial problems.
In recent years, there has been a growing acceptance of the LGBT community in this country, and surveys have shown that a majority of Americans now favor same-sex marriage.
Meade said he and his husband are encouraged by those changes.
Barlowe said he and Meade want to be part of that change. The case may take so long to work its way through the courts that they never see the final decision on it themselves, given their age.
“But think of all the people coming behind us,” he said. “It’s uplifting to know we can make a difference.”