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Why Obamacare poster child split on same-sex marriage

By Leigh Ann Caldwell, CNN
updated 7:39 AM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
  • Kentucky governor will challenge decision to overturn state's same-sex marriage ban
  • Steve Beshear said he wants to see "finality" on the issue
  • He is a Democratic governor in a conservative state
  • His son is running for state-wide office

(CNN) -- President Barack Obama invited Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear to this year's State of the Union address where he praised the Democrat for aggressively carrying out the Affordable Care Act.

"He is like a man possessed when it comes to covering his commonwealth's families," Obama said about Beshear, who boasts that more than 420,000 people have signed up for his state's version of the controversial federal health law championed by Obama.

Although he's with the President on Obamacare, Beshear has turned from Democrats on same-sex marriage, saying he would appeal a federal court ruling overturning the Kentucky ban.

Beshear argues that traditional marriage leads to procreation and a stable economy, and he's challenging the decision "so that the matter is fully before" the federal appeals court.

His position swims against same-sex marriage tide. States continue to legalize it and courts continue to strike down bans where it isn't. It's growing more likely that it will wind up before the Supreme Court, as early as the next term.

Even Republican governors, including Pennsylvania's Tom Corbett and New Jersey's Chris Christie, decided to not appeal court decisions striking down similar laws.

Beshear's short statement is a continuation of one he issued in March after his attorney general, fellow Democrat Jack Conway, decided not to push the issue.

At the time he said he wanted to challenge same-sex proponents to ultimately settle the issue and prevent "legal chaos."

In Beshear's effort through the courts to bring "certainty and finality" to the issue, he appears to oppose same-sex marriage by challenging the ruling as governor without having to take a personal stance.

It's a politically skillful move for a popular Democratic governor in an increasingly Republican state.

While Kentucky has a Democratic governor, its two senators are Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul.

The state's opinion of national Democrats is low, as Obama received a paltry percentage of the vote - only 38% - in 2012.

Stephen Voss, a University of Kentucky political science professor, said Beshear's decision is in accordance with the politics of the state.

"He's acting like a large chunk of the voters," Voss said.

The state is one of the last bastions of the dying breed of southern Democrats who are socially conservative and fiscally more liberal.

The most recent polling in Kentucky on the issue found that 55% of people oppose same-sex marriage, a stark difference compared to the 38% against it nationally.

Phillip Bailey, political editor at Kentucky Public Radio's WFPL in Louisville, said the national Democratic Party is far more liberal than the Kentucky Democratic Party.

"The kryptonite for a moderate Democrat with an increasingly liberal party in a conservative state is social issues," Bailey said.

In an address to the state's General Assembly during his re-election campaign in 2011, Beshear stood before the lawmakers, rose his voice, pointed his finger and told Obama to "Get off our backs!" when it comes to coal plant regulations.

Bailey said Beshear's politics are masterful.

"I don't think there's anyone else who has been able to yell at the President on TV and then go to Washington and be in the front row of the State of the Union and get praise from the President," he said. "That shows the mastery of Beshear to walk that line."

Beshear is term-limited and will be out in less than two years. But political roots run deep and his legacy continues after 2015 as his son, Andy Beshear, has announced a run for statewide office.

Andy Beshear hopes to succeed Conway, who is running for governor, as attorney general. The younger Beshear is likely to be up against a a conservative Democrat in the primary and even more conservative Republican in the general election.

"He's got to worry about the political viability of the Beshear brand," Voss said.

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