Kentucky clerk held in contempt, ordered to jail over same-sex marriage license controversy
ASHLAND, Kentucky (Sept. 3, 2015) — Rowan County, Kentucky, clerk Kim Davis couldn’t be swayed to heed a U.S. Supreme Court order legalizing same-sex marriage, so on Thursday a federal judge held her in contempt and remanded her to custody.
In a federal courthouse in Ashland, Kentucky, attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union argued that the clerk should be fined.
Davis, the attorneys argued in a motion filed Monday, “continues to collect compensation from the Commonwealth for duties she fails to perform.”
They said they didn’t want her to be jailed as punishment, but rather, the attorneys asked the court to “impose financial penalties sufficiently serious and increasingly onerous” to make her comply with the high court’s order.
U.S. District Judge David Bunning, however, apparently felt she deserved jail time.
The clerk, an Apostolic Christian who says she has a sincere religious objection to same-sex marriage, has refused to issue any marriage licenses since the Supreme Court decision in June legalizing same-sex marriage.
In court documents filed Wednesday, her attorneys argue that she shouldn’t be held in contempt. Instead, they argued, there are alternatives that would allow couples to get marriage licenses in Rowan County without going against Davis’ religious beliefs.
Among the options they offered were allowing other officials to issue marriage licenses in the county, distributing marriage licenses at the state level or changing marriage license forms to remove Davis’ name.
A seat inside the courtroom was a hot ticket. Before the session began, more than 100 people were turned away from Bunning’s courtroom, which holds 300 people. A federal law enforcement source told CNN that because of the controversy surrounding the case, Bunning was provided with a security escort on his way into work Thursday.
‘Respect the law; do your job!’
A large crowd, leaning mostly in support of Davis, gathered outside the courthouse before the hearing, many carrying signs. “Jesus Saves” read one, while another pointed passersby to the Bible’s Acts 5:29, which quotes Peter and other apostles saying, “We must obey God rather than human beings!”
Lana Bailey of Worthington, about a 20-minute drive northwest of Ashland, brought signs as well, both of which seemed to address Davis: “My gay friends pay taxes which helps pay you… right??” and “Respect the law; do your job!”
“I’m here to support equal rights for all,” she said. “It’s just called respect. I don’t understand why we’re having this. Why are we spending money on this? … If you can’t do your job then you need to step down. You need to resign.”
Jason Porter, a pastor at Ashland’s Gospel Light Baptist Church, spoke for the other side and said he wasn’t at the courthouse “to bash people’s decisions and lifestyles,” but he worried that if people were allowed to continue doing whatever they want to do, “the floodgates will open to other areas of polygamy.”
He did not elaborate on how same-sex marriage was akin to polygamy, which is the act of having multiple spouses. Polygamy is illegal in every state.
Echoing those who cited Acts 5:29, he said he felt Davis had a right to refuse to issue the marriage license and, waving his Bible, he told CNN he bore no hatred toward gay couples and is merely standing “for the truths of my God’s word.”
“I just know the destruction that this brings. As a pastor, I see the background. I see the broken families. I see the AIDS. I see the folks dying of diseases and the brokenness of relationships,” he said.
Lawyers: Issuing licenses ‘violates her conscience’
Two other county clerks in Kentucky are also refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, according to a statement on Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear’s website.
Bunning ordered Davis to resume the issuing of marriage licenses on August 12. Monday night, the Supreme Court denied an emergency application from Davis, who asked that Bunning’s order be put on hold pending appeal.
In a statement released Tuesday, Davis, a Democrat, said she has received death threats but intends to continue to serve as the county clerk — a position she was elected to fill in November.
In court papers, attorneys for Davis argued that she is unable to comply with the court orders because issuing same-sex marriage licenses “irreparably and irreversibly violates her conscience.”
Finding her in contempt of court, they argued in the motion filed Wednesday, also would “substantially burden Davis’ religious exercise.”
But some scoff at the clerk, suggesting she’s a hypocrite because she’s been divorced three times.
Davis said she’s a different person now since becoming a Christian four years ago.
“I am not perfect,” she said in a statement. “No one is. But I am forgiven.”
The ACLU attorneys, who represent two same-sex couples and two opposite-sex couples who want to get married in Rowan County, argued that Davis has no legal basis to avoid performing her duties as a government clerk.
And a federal prosecutor said it’s time for Davis and her county to comply.
“Government officials are free to disagree with the law, but not disobey it,” U.S. Attorney Kerry B. Harvey said in a statement. “The County Clerk has presented her position through the federal court system, all of the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. It is time for the Clerk and the County to follow the law.”