FRANKFORT, Ky. – Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin ordered the state to prepare new marriage licenses that do not include the names of county clerks in an attempt to protect the religious beliefs of clerk Kim Davis and other local elected officials.
The executive order comes after Davis, the Rowan County clerk, spent five days in jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Davis said she could not issue the licenses because they had her name on them.
Bevin said wanted to "ensure that the sincerely held religious beliefs of all Kentuckians are honored." It was one of five executive orders he issued Tuesday, the first of his administration, that mostly revised or suspended recent actions by former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.
"Today, I took action to uphold several commitments I made during my campaign so that we can implement real solutions that will help the people of Kentucky," Bevin said in a news release.
Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins, whose office serves the state's second largest city, Lexington, said he believes Bevin exceeded his authority. He sees marriage licenses as a civil transaction and believes the clerk's names should remain on them for the historical record, he said.
"Hundreds of years from now, these licenses will be used by genealogists and researchers. Having the names of all the parties involves is very important when you're talking about a permanent record, for purely practical purposes," he said. "I'm not pleased at all by this. This has gotten out of hand."
Greg Stumbo, the Democratic speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives, applauded Bevin for "finding a way to balance the law and the concerns (of) county clerks."
It's unclear how Bevin's order will affect a federal lawsuit brought by four couples against Davis. One of Davis' deputy clerks has been issuing altered marriage licenses to all eligible couples since September. They do not include Davis' name or the name of the county.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the four couples, has asked U.S. District Judge David Bunning to order Davis to reissue the licenses. Bunning has not made a decision yet.
Davis and her supporters had asked Beshear to issue a similar executive order. Beshear had refused, arguing only the state legislature had the authority to change the state law requiring the contents of the marriage license form.
"Gov. Bevin's executive action has added to the cloud of uncertainty that hangs over marriage licensing in Kentucky," William Sharp, legal director for the ACLU of Kentucky, said in a news release.
Bevin also took aim at two of Democrats' proudest moments this year: raising the minimum wage for some state workers and automatically restoring the voting rights of some nonviolent convicted felons who had completed their sentences.
Bevin revised a previous order from Beshear that raised the minimum wage for most state workers to $10.10 per hour. That action went into effect on July 1 and impacted about 800 people at a cost to taxpayers of $1.6 million. Bevin's order said state agencies and vendors do not have to pay the higher wage, but added it would not affect people who have already received a raise.
"Really? Out of the things you could have done, since you have been elected that's something you choose to come right out of the gate with? Come on," said David Smith, executive director of the Kentucky State Employees Association.
Before leaving office, Beshear issued an executive order automatically restoring the voting rights of convicted felons who had completed their sentences and did not have any pending charges or restitution orders. Bevin suspended that order, saying felons would have to apply to his office on a case by case basis. The order does not affect anyone who has already had their rights restored.
Mantell Stevens lost his right to vote in 2001. He pleaded guilty to a felony drug possession charge, spent 30 days in jail and another three years on probation.
"I'm very upset, I'm hurt," he said when he learned of Bevin's order. "I don't know why anybody in their right mind wouldn't want anybody to have the right to vote. What is it that is so bad about us having the right to vote?"