Kentucky Clerk Denies Same-Sex Marriage Licenses, Defying Court
In a raucous scene in this little town, two same-sex couples walked into the Rowan County Courthouse, trailed by television cameras and chanting protesters on both sides of the issue, only to be turned away by the county clerk, Kim Davis. As one couple, David Ermold and David Moore, tried to engage her in an argument, Ms. Davis said several times that her office would not issue any marriage licenses. “Under whose authority?” Mr. Ermold asked. “Under God’s authority,” she replied.
Kentucky Clerk Denies Same-Sex Marriage Licenses, Defying Court
By ALAN BLINDER and RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑASEPT. 1, 2015
MOREHEAD, Ky. — A county clerk in Kentucky who objects to same-sex marriage on religious grounds denied licenses to gay couples on Tuesday, saying she was acting “under God’s authority,” just hours after the Supreme Court refused to support her position.
In a raucous scene in this little town, two same-sex couples walked into the Rowan County Courthouse, trailed by television cameras and chanting protesters on both sides of the issue, only to be turned away by the county clerk, Kim Davis.
As one couple, David Ermold and David Moore, tried to engage her in an argument, Ms. Davis said several times that her office would not issue any marriage licenses. “Under whose authority?” Mr. Ermold asked.
“Under God’s authority,” she replied.
Ms. Davis, who took office in January, said later in the day in a statement released by her lawyers that she had received death threats, but that she would neither resign nor relent.
“To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience,” she said. “It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision. For me it is a decision of obedience. I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will. To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God’s word.”
Ms. Davis at first remained in her office with the blinds drawn, while a deputy clerk told Mr. Ermold and Mr. Moore and another couple, April Miller and Karen Roberts, that no licenses would be issued Tuesday. But the two men began shouting for her to come out and confront them face to face.
“Tell her to come out and face the people she’s discriminating against,” Mr. Ermold said.
Ms. Davis emerged briefly, and asked them to leave.
Mr. Moore said he would remain in the clerk’s office until he and Mr. Ermold had a license.
“Then you’re going to have a long day,” Ms. Davis replied.
After the county sheriff, Matt Sparks, arrived, Mr. Moore asked him to arrest Ms. Davis, but Sheriff Sparks said he could not.
“I suspect the federal court will decide the next course of action,” the sheriff said. “There’s actually people pushing — want us to arrest everybody here for disorderly conduct.”
Lawyers for the plaintiffs filed a motion in Federal District Court, asking a judge to hold Ms. Davis in contempt of court and to assess fines for refusing to issue marriage licenses. A hearing was set for Thursday.
In an interview, Ms. Miller said, “We were hopeful that we would get a license this morning, but we also understood that she has taken a pretty strong stand, so it was not a surprise.” She and Ms. Roberts were the first through the door when the clerk’s office opened at 8 a.m. — their third attempt to get a license in Rowan County.
They might be able to get a license in another county. “But it would set a dangerous precedent to let it go,” Ms. Miller said. “We had no idea that this would blow up into national news.”
Though she and Ms. Davis have become adversaries, “I respect her for standing up for what she believes in — I know that’s hard to do, because we’re doing that, too,” Ms. Miller said. “I’m just sorry that she’s interjecting her personal beliefs above her government job duties.”
Ms. Davis stopped issuing all marriage licenses after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in June.
After the state’s governor told county clerks to issue marriage licenses to all eligible couples, Ms. Davis filed suit in federal court, arguing that she should be excused from the obligation, given her religious beliefs. A District Court judge ruled against her, as did the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and she appealed to the Supreme Court.
On Monday, a stay granted by the District Court expired, and the Supreme Court rejected without comment Ms. Davis’s emergency application for a new stay, pending the outcome of her appeal. That left her no legal grounds to refuse to grant licenses to same-sex couples.
“She’s certainly in contempt of court by any definition of the term, so the District Court has an array of sanctions it can resort to, to deal with that,” said Daniel J. Canon, a lawyer for some of the same-sex couples seeking licenses.
Ms. Davis told the Supreme Court that her Apostolic Christian faith forbade her to affix her name to a document endorsing the view that the marriages of gay men and lesbians were authentic. “This searing act of validation would forever echo in her conscience,” her lawyers told the court.
A fellow Kentucky clerk, Casey Davis, who has protested alongside Ms. Davis, insisted Tuesday that “we’ve not tried to prevent,” same-sex marriages, “we’ve only tried to exercise our First Amendment rights.”
Mr. Davis said same-sex couples could go to another county to get married when a county clerk objects due to religious beliefs. “There was a lot of people that died for that right and I think we should be able to exercise it,” Mr. Davis told CNN. He is riding his bicycle from Louisville, Ky., to the West Coast to raise awareness for what he described as an assault on religious liberty.
Gov. Steven L. Beshear’s office had no immediate comment on the confrontation. But in July, Mr. Beshear, a Democrat, said their oaths of office bound the county clerks to perform their duties, including issuing marriage licenses. Most clerks were doing so, he said, and “the courts and the voters will deal appropriately with the rest.”
Some lawmakers have discussed the possibility of changes to state law to address the issue, but the governor has said he will not call a special legislative session, so any action would have to wait until next year.
Some same-sex marriage advocates have said that Ms. Davis, an elected official, should be removed from office, but that would be time-consuming and politically difficult in a conservative state. The state Legislature, where each party controls one chamber, could impeach her, but that is considered unlikely.
Officials have said it might be possible to charge her with official misconduct, a misdemeanor; a conviction could result in a court order removing her. The county attorney has declined to take up the question, referring it to the state’s attorney general, Jack Conway, a Democrat who is running for governor. His office has said it is looking into the matter.
By midday Tuesday, the county clerk’s office here was mostly empty, but demonstrators faced each other across a plaza outside the courthouse.
On one side, Ms. Davis’s supporters held signs with messages including, “Don’t give up. The answer’s on the way.” The clerk’s critics raised their own equally blunt placards with the declarations: “Small town, not small mind” and “You don’t own marriage.”
Flavis McKinney, 72, who sipped a soda as he watched the dueling demonstrations, said he was unmoved by Ms. Davis’s opponents and that he had come to the courthouse “to stand up for God and his word, and to stand up for our clerk.”
“I’ve raised five children, 13 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren,” said Mr. McKinney, who is retired. “Been married 52 years to the same wife, and God has blessed us because we’ve done it God’s way, not man’s way. We’ve obeyed God.”
But Ms. Davis’s critics, many of whom appeared to be in their 20s and 30s, argued that she personified a dated approach to marriage.
“It really just blows my mind that people can be so closed-minded,” said Shaina Cercone, a 22-year-old student at nearby Morehead State University. “We’re out here trying to support love. Christianity supposedly supports love in all ways, so it seems kind of contradictory that they’re out here, I guess, discriminating.”
She added, “It’s 2015. Times have changed, and I think everyone that’s an American citizen needs to realize that. And if you’re a part of America, then you’re going to realize that change is a good thing, and you’ve got to go with it.”
Ms. Davis’s supporters, including Mr. McKinney, said they were frustrated by the legal system that had brought Rowan County to Tuesday’s standoff.
“Every court system that she’s had to go before is a rigged court,” he said. “If she should be fined or jailed, either one, I think it could be one of the most disgraceful things that ever happened in this county.”
But he also said he was confident that with God’s help, Ms. Davis would ultimately prevail, even though her odds appeared to be narrowing.
“He delivered Daniel from the lion’s den,” Mr. McKinney said. “So I trust he will deliver her.”
Alan Blinder reported from Morehead, Ky., and Richard Perez-Pena from New York. Christine Hauser contributed reporting from New York.
Court Rules Clerk Must Issue Licenses for Same-Sex Marriages