Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio said on Wednesday that the federal government needs to respect the religious beliefs of the controversial Kentucky county clerk who has refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples because she says it is against her faith.
Rubio said that the U.S. needs to accommodate public officials, like Kentucky's Kim Davis, who object to performing certain duties because of their religious beliefs.
"We should seek a balance between government's responsibility to abide by the laws of our republic and allowing people to stand by their religious convictions," Rubio said in a statement to the New York Times. "While the clerk's office has a governmental duty to carry out the law," he added, "there should be a way to protect the religious freedom and conscience rights of individuals working in the office."
Davis, a clerk in Kentucky's Rowan County, was summoned to a hearing Thursday before U.S. District Judge David Bunning. He also ordered all Davis' deputy clerks to appear.
Bunning ordered a defiant Davis to jail after she refused to issue the marriage licenses. The judge told Davis she would be jailed until she complied with his order to issue the licenses. Davis said "thank you" before she was led out of the courtroom by a U.S. marshal. She was not in handcuffs.
Davis stopped issuing licenses to all couples in June after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. Despite rulings against her, she's turned away couples again and again, citing her Christian beliefs and "God's authority."
The couples who originally sued in the case asked Bunning to punish Davis with fines but not jail time.
After her jailing, five of the six deputy clerks working under Davis have said they will issue marriage licenses to gay couples, despite their boss' refusal to do so. The lone holdout among the deputy clerk's is Davis' son, Nathan.
Before her hearing, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the courthouse where she is to appear – waving signs, chanting and singing hymns as they wait for Davis to arrive.
Signs ranged from threatening — "Turn to Jesus or Burn" — to statements of support.
The issue of same-sex marriage has been a tough topic for many Republican candidates, who want to appeal to their base, conservative constituency even as the U.S. is seeing an overall trend in favor of allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.
Rubio, along with many other GOP candidates, have framed the issue around people's religious freedoms and exemptions likes those being sought by Davis.
"Marriage is the most important in institution in our society, and I believe it should be between one man and one woman," he said. "Our nation was founded on the human right of religious freedom, and our elected leaders have a duty to protect that right by ensuring that no one is forced by the government to violate their conscience and deeply held religious beliefs about traditional marriage."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.