ROWAN COUNTY, Ky. — U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning in Kentucky has ordered that Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis be released from jail. He ordered her not to interfere with clerks in her office issuing marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples.
Kim Davis is the elected clerk of Rowan County in northeastern Kentucky, along the edge of the Appalachian Mountains.
She is a Democrat who was first elected last fall with 3,909 votes, or 53% of the vote. The county has 23,655 residents.
Though on the job only since January, Davis is hardly new to its demands.
Her mother was the county clerk for 37 years, and Davis worked 27 years for her.
Davis, 49, has spent her entire life in Rowan County, where 96% of people are white and more than one-fourth live in poverty.
Davis refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, defying the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that legalized same-sex marriage.
“It is not a light issue for me. It is a heaven or hell decision,” Davis said in a statement, citing her religion.
Davis doesn’t want her name and title affixed to a same-sex marriage license “that goes down in the annals of Kentucky history,” said her attorney, Mat Staver.
On September 3, U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning, ruling on motions filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, declared Davis in contempt of court for refusing to issue the licenses and not allowing her six deputies to issue them for her. He said Davis would remain behind bars until she complies.
Five of her deputies then agreed to issue marriage licenses in her absence, and the Rowan County Clerk’s Office began doing so the following day.
The sixth deputy is Davis’ son, Nathan, who didn’t give an answer when he appeared in court to discuss whether he would issue same-sex marriage licenses.
Davis’ defense failed to sway the judge.
“You can’t be separated from something that’s in your heart and in your soul,” she told the judge, according to CNN affiliate WKYT-TV.
On September 7 she asked Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear to free her immediately, but Beshear’s office said he won’t respond, noting that the conflict was a “matter between her and the courts.”
Davis’ husband, Joe, told reporters that his wife was willing to stay in jail until a compromise happens.
Could there be a compromise?
Davis’ supporters believe so, and her attorney said Davis would issue the licenses if her name and title were not on the documents.
The state legislature could pass a law allowing clerks to remove their names from the licenses, but lawmakers are out of session until January.
The governor won’t call for a special legislative session to deal with the issue, partly because such a gathering would cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money,” he said.
“The General Assembly will convene in four months and can make any statutory changes it deems necessary at that time,” Beshear said. “The future of the Rowan County clerk continues to be a matter between her and the courts.”
Davis’ lawyers say the governor could remove her name from the licenses via executive order, and have asked a federal appeals court for an injunction that would prompt him to do so.