Rowan Co. Clerk Kim Davis freed as thousands descend on local jail, but sanctions loom with noncompliance

09/08/2015 10:22 PM

GRAYSON — As thousands from across the country assembled in front of the Carter County Detention Center on Tuesday celebrating her release after a sixth day behind bars, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis stood on the back of a flatbed truck and wept.

“Thank you all so much,” she said as she composed herself. “I love you all so very much.”

“His people have rallied, and you are a strong people,” she continued. “… Just keep on pressin’. Don’t let down because He is here.”

Davis’s freedom, heralded at a rally organized by GOP presidential hopeful and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, comes after U.S. District Judge David Bunning found Tuesday that the plaintiffs suing her in federal court had obtained marriage licenses since her incarceration.

It also comes with a stipulation: Davis, who has cited her religious objections to same-sex marriage in defense of her no-marriage-license policy, cannot interfere with the issuance of licenses in her office or else she will face “appropriate sanctions.”

Bunning jailed Davis for contempt on Thursday for her refusal to issue marriage licenses as stipulated in a preliminary injunction from the court.

Bunning’s release order includes a provision mandating status updates from court-appointed attorneys for deputy clerks in Rowan County, who have resumed the licensing process since Davis’s incarceration, every 14 days.

Despite her freedom, it’s unclear whether Davis will follow the court’s order.

“She’ll serve the people as they want her to serve and she was elected, and she’ll also be loyal to God and she’s not going to violate her conscience,” Mat Staver, chairman of the Liberty Counsel representing Davis in federal court, told reporters after Davis was released. “So, she’s released today and we’re certainly rejoicing her release, but the court order did not resolve the underlying issue.”

Staver, adding that Davis will return to work this week, said she wants her name removed from marriage licenses, a request he says can be fulfilled by Bunning, Gov. Steve Beshear or the General Assembly, which will convene in January.

“Kim Davis cannot and will not violate her conscience,” Staver said when asked whether Davis would allow her deputies to issue marriage licenses.

Huckabee called Davis an “incredibly brave lady who decided that the courage of her convictions was more important than simply her own freedom.”

“I told Kim today that I feel like she’s shown more courage than most any politician that I know and most every pastor that I know because she’s not only said something, she’s been willing to put her life at risk in order to follow the Christ that came into her life four years ago,” said Huckabee, currently at ninth in presidential polling per an average by Real Clear Politics.

“And that’s a bold declaration of the authenticity of her faith and the reality of it.”

Huckabee, who went so far as to offer himself as a substitute for Davis if Bunning orders her back to jail, wasn’t the only GOP presidential contender to descend on the small eastern Kentucky jail.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, arrived at the detention center with Republican gubernatorial nominee Matt Bevin, but he did not speak to reporters gathered outside the jail.

“He (Huckabee) doesn’t want me talking to reporters,” Cruz told a deputy jailer feet away from media.

The Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy group, called Huckabee’s and Cruz’s stop in Grayson “a reckless and irresponsible trip” that celebrated a county clerk’s refusal to follow a federal court order and block others in the office “from carrying out the law.”

“The right to believe is fundamental, but the right to use taxpayer dollars to promote discrimination is not,” JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president of policy and political affairs for HRC, said in a statement. “That’s exactly why the overwhelming majority of public officials across the country are upholding the rule of law and issuing marriage licenses to all couples, including same-sex couples who are seeking to get married.”

Tuesday marked the first public appearance by presidential candidates on Davis’ behalf, but Bevin, who spoke at the rally, has seized on her cause with Kentucky’s governor’s race less than two months to conclusion.

Democrats like Attorney General Jack Conway, his party’s gubernatorial nominee, downplayed the impact of Davis’s incarceration on their electoral prospects during a Labor Day picnic on Monday, but Bevin said after Tuesday’s rally that the matter has concerned a number of voters on the campaign trail.

Bevin said that outside urban areas, “it’s what 75 to 80 percent of people talk about, this and Planned Parenthood.”

Conway “is unwilling to come out and speak to the people of Kentucky on this issue or any other,” Bevin added.

“The man has no spine,” he said. “He’s hiding behind money. He’s hiding behind privilege. He’s hiding behind cowardice, and he’s hoping that we the people of Kentucky will be suckered into voting for him.”

Tuesday’s rally featured relentless criticism of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26 decision legalizing same-sex marriage, with speakers offering Davis as an example of someone jailed for their religious convictions on the divisive issue.

“I know there are some people who will say that this is a rally of hate,” Huckabee said from the back of the flatbed truck. “They would be wrong. I know this, and I think I speak for you. We don’t gather here today because we hate anybody.

“We gather here today because we love God and we love this great country, and we do not want to see this country become the smoldering remains of what was once a great republic where the people ruled and it’s exchanged for a place where five unelected lawyers think that they can rule.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.


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