GRAYSON, Ky. – A judge on Tuesday ordered the release of a Kentucky clerk who was held in contempt of court and jailed for several days over her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
TIME IN JAIL
U.S. District Judge David Bunning on Thursday ruled that Rowan County clerk Kim Davis was in contempt of court for refusing his order to issue marriage licenses. She was escorted from court by a U.S. marshal and was being held at the Carter County Detention Center in Grayson, Kentucky.
Bunning offered to release Davis if she would promise not to interfere with the five of her six employees who said they would start issuing licenses the next morning. But Davis rejected that offer and chose to stay in jail.
On Tuesday morning, attorneys for the four couples who originally sued in the case filed a report that Bunning requested to update him on their attempts to get marriage licenses. The notice said that three of the four couples — two gay, one straight — had successfully received licenses.
Shortly after the notice was filed, Bunning ordered Davis' release. He also ordered her not to interfere with the issuing of marriage licenses from her office. Since she was jailed, deputy clerks in the office have granted licenses.
Davis, an apostolic Christian, says gay marriage is a sin. She stopped issuing all marriage licenses in June the day after the U.S. Supreme Court effectively legalized same-sex marriages nationwide. She says that because marriage licenses are issued under her authority, it would be a sin for her to grant them to same-sex couples.
"God's moral law conflicts with my job duties," Davis told the judge before she was jailed. "You can't be separated from something that's in your heart and in your soul."
On Monday, Davis' attorneys filed yet another appeal in her case. In an emergency motion, they asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit for an order to have Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear accommodate Davis' "religious conviction" and not force her to grant licenses to gay couples. Davis and Beshear are both Democrats.
Bunning denied a similar request last month.
If the appellate court grants the request, Beshear would have to allow Davis to remove her name and title from official marriage certificates issued in Rowan County. By doing that, Davis would no longer be in contempt and could be released from jail immediately, her attorneys say. She would not be sanctioning any same-sex unions and her conscience would be satisfied, they add.
Her lawyers also have appealed Bunning's ruling that landed her in jail.
ROLE OF THE GOVERNOR, LEGISLATURE
Davis has said she hopes the state General Assembly will change Kentucky laws to find some way for her to keep her job while following her conscience. But unless the governor convenes a costly special session, state lawmakers won't meet until January. So far, Beshear has refused to call a session.
Davis has refused to resign her $80,000-a-year job. As an elected official, she can lose her job only if she is defeated in an election or is impeached by the state Legislature. The latter is unlikely given the conservative nature of the state General Assembly.
NEARBY, IN NORTH CAROLINA
Under a law that took effect June 11, North Carolina government employees who issue marriage licenses or can preside over civil ceremonies may refuse to do so by invoking their religious beliefs.
So far, more than 30 magistrates in the state have refused to perform weddings under the law. That represents nearly 5 percent of the state's 670 magistrates. Around a dozen other register of deeds workers who issue licenses also sought recusals shortly after the law took effect.
The chief District Court judge or the county register of deeds — both elected officials — fill in on marriages if needed when employees refuse.
The law exempts court officials with a "sincerely held religious objection" and is designed for those opposing gay marriage, but recusals apply to all marriages. Only Utah has a similar recusal law.
State Sen. Phil Berger, who sponsored the law, said it is probably preventing situations like the one in Kentucky.
Some Democrats have said legal challenges to the new law are likely.