Federal judge orders Kentucky clerk and her staff to court
A county clerk in Kentucky who has invoked "God’s authority" and is defying the U.S. Supreme Court by refusing to license same-sex marriage has been summoned along with her entire staff to explain to a federal judge why they should not face stiff fines or jail time.
U.S. District Judge David Bunning moved swiftly Tuesday after a lesbian couple asked him to find Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis in contempt. Davis told several couples and a crowd of supporters and protesters that her religious beliefs prevent her from sanctioning gay marriage, and then retreated again, closing her office door and blinds to the raucous scene outside.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene Monday night, leaving Davis no legal ground for her continued refusal Tuesday morning. Lawyers for the two gay couples who originally sued her asked the judge Tuesday to find her in contempt, but punish her with only financial penalties, not jail time.
"Since Defendant Davis continues to collect compensation from the Commonwealth for duties she fails to perform," they asked Bunning to "impose financial penalties sufficiently serious and increasingly onerous" to compel her immediate compliance without delay.
As an elected official, Davis can’t be fired; her impeachment would have to wait until the Legislature’s regular session next year or a costly special session.
Before retreating into her inner office, Davis asked David Moore and David Ermold to leave. It was the fourth time the couple had been rejected, and they refused, surrounded by reporters and cameras.
"We’re not leaving until we have a license," Ermold said.
"Then you’re going to have a long day," Davis told him.
From the back of the room, Davis’ supporters said: "Praise the Lord! … Stand your ground."
Other activists shouted that Davis is a bigot and told her: "Do your job."
The sheriff then moved everyone out to the courthouse lawn, where James Yates and Will Smith Jr., denied a license for a fifth time, left red-eyed and shaking.
"It’s just too hard right now," Yates said, choking back tears as they rushed to their car, holding hands.
Davis was elected last November as a Democrat, succeeding her mother in the office she had held for 37 years, according to the Morehead News.
Davis stopped issuing all marriage licenses after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage across the nation. Two gay couples and two straight couples sued her, arguing that she must fulfill her duties as an elected official despite her personal religious faith. A federal judge ordered her to issue the licenses, and an appeals court upheld that decision.
Her lawyers with the Liberty Counsel filed a last-ditch appeal to the Supreme Court on Friday, asking that they grant her "asylum for her conscience."
Justice Elena Kagan, who oversees the 6th district, referred Davis’ request to the full court, which denied the stay without comment.
Amid Tuesday’s developments, two groups lined up on either side of the courthouse entrance to chant at each other.
"At the end of the day, we have to stand before God, which has higher authority than the Supreme Court," said Randy Smith, leading the group supporting Davis.
Ermold and Moore, together for 17 years, cried and swayed as walked out to chants from the clerk’s supporters.
"I feel sad, I feel devastated," Ermold said. "I feel like I’ve been humiliated on such a national level, I can’t even comprehend it."
The clerk’s husband, Joe Davis, came by to check on his wife. He said she has received death threats but remains committed to her faith and is "standing for God." As for himself, he said he believes in the Second Amendment: "I’m an old redneck hillbilly, that’s all I’ve got to say. Don’t come knocking on my door."
He pointed to the gay rights protesters gathered on the courthouse lawn and said: "They want us to accept their beliefs and their ways. But they won’t accept our beliefs and our ways."
Davis also released a statement through the Liberty Counsel saying:
"I have worked in the Rowan County Clerk’s office for 27 years as a Deputy Clerk and was honored to be elected as the Clerk in November 2014, and took office in January 2015. I love my job and the people of Rowan County. I have never lived any place other than Rowan County. Some people have said I should resign, but I have done my job well. This year we are on track to generate a surplus for the county of 1.5 million dollars.
In addition to my desire to serve the people of Rowan County, I owe my life to Jesus Christ who loves me and gave His life for me. Following the death of my godly mother-in-law over four years ago, I went to church to fulfill her dying wish. There I heard a message of grace and forgiveness and surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. I am not perfect. No one is. But I am forgiven and I love my Lord and must be obedient to Him and to the Word of God.
I never imagined a day like this would come, where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage. To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. 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. It is a matter of religious liberty, which is protected under the First Amendment, the Kentucky Constitution, and in the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Our history is filled with accommodations for people’s religious freedom and conscience. I want to continue to perform my duties, but I also am requesting what our Founders envisioned – that conscience and religious freedom would be protected. That is all I am asking. I never sought to be in this position, and I would much rather not have been placed in this position. I have received death threats from people who do not know me. I harbor nothing against them. I was elected by the people to serve as the County Clerk. I intend to continue to serve the people of Rowan County, but I cannot violate my conscience."