A federal appeals court on Tuesday reinstated a gay couple's claim that Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis caused them "emotional distress" when she refused to issue them a marriage license in 2015 following the U.S. Supreme Court's legalization of same-sex marriage.
The Tuesday ruling revives an issue that pulled the state into the center of a debate over same-sex marriage. The incident transformed Davis into a heroic figure among opponents of same-sex marriage, while many in the LGBT community saw her as a symbol of the bigotry they were fighting against.
Last August, a district judge dismissed three other lawsuits by same-sex couples against Davis, saying the issue was "moot" because of a 2016 change to Kentucky law that removed county clerk's names from marriage licenses.
However, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state changing marriage licenses in 2016 does not eliminate whatever harm Davis might have done to couples’ constitutional right to marry in 2015.
The appeals court ruled that the couple is entitled to have their complaint against Davis heard because it’s not a challenge to Davis's policy as a clerk, but rather seeks damages for "a particularized harm allegedly suffered by a specific set of plaintiffs.”
David Ermold and David Moore tried to get a marriage license in Rowan County, Kentucky, in June 2015 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage bans were unconstitutional. But Davis refused to issue them a license because she said it violated her religious beliefs.
Ermold and Moore sued, along with other couples. Davis lost, and spent five days in jail for refusing to follow a court order.
Ermold and Moore, who have been together for more than 18 years, want Davis to pay damages for the emotional distress caused by her refusal to issue them a license. They filmed their rejection and uploaded it to YouTube, which has been viewed more than 1.8 million times.
Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based law firm specializing in religious-liberty issues, has represented Davis throughout the case.
Mat Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel, said the case now heads back to the district court to be resolved.
"It keeps the case alive," he said. "This is their attempt to go after Kim Davis."
Michael J. Gartland, attorney for the couple, expressed confidence in the couple's chances.
“We’re going to get damages, I’m sure of that,” Gartland told the Lexington Herald Leader on Tuesday. “There’s been no discovery yet. I can’t imagine it’s a huge amount of damages, but there are damages.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.