Rowan County clerk ordered to court for continuing to refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses

09/01/2015 07:23 PM

MOREHEAD — Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis and her staff have been ordered to appear in federal court 11 a.m. Thursday by U.S. District Judge David Bunning to determine whether she is in contempt of court, a charge that could include a fine, jail time or both.

Davis continued her stand on Tuesday of not issuing any marriage licenses despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Monday evening to not hear her request for emergency application. Davis, an Apostolic Christian, contends that issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples is against her religious beliefs.

About 100 raucous supporters on both sides of the issue descended on the grounds of the Rowan County Courthouse before the clerk’s office opened at 8 a.m.

When the doors opened, April Miller and Karen Roberts arrived in hopes of getting a marriage license but were turned away for the third time, being told by a staff member that no licenses would be issued.

Miller said that she and her partner are frustrated that they’re still attempting to get a marriage license in Rowan County.

“When we started this process past our first denial, we expected somebody to be able to do something about it,” Miller said. “… We’ll go on. We’re going to get our license here, and the judicial system will take care of this.”

Davis emerged from her office to tell another couple looking to get a marriage license, David Moore and David Ermold, that she would not be issuing any marriage licenses today.

“Under whose authority?” someone questioned.

“Under God’s authority,” Davis replied.

Davis then went back into her office for the remainder of the day.

In a statement posted to the Liberty Counsel website, the organization providing her counsel, Davis said that she has received death threats but would not resign or relent.

“To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue,” she said in the statement. “It is about marriage and God’s Word. It is a matter of religious liberty, which is protected under the First Amendment, the Kentucky Constitution, and in the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

Morehead minister Randy Smith led protesters in front of the courthouse backing the clerk’s stance.

Smith told supporters that he wanted to thank Davis for having the courage to take a stand on the issue.

“I’m telling you, we need people in office who have a backbone,” Smith said. “I want to give God thanks for people like Kim Davis and I want to thank Kim Davis.”

Attorneys for the Rowan County couples seeking marriage licenses filed a motion to hold Davis in contempt of court on Tuesday, asking Bunning to fine Davis rather than incarcerate her.

“Since Defendant Davis continues to collect compensation from the Commonwealth for duties she fails to perform, Plaintiffs urge the the Court to impose financial penalties sufficiently serious and increasingly onerous to compel Davis’ immediate compliance without further delay,” attorneys wrote in their motion.

Davis may be getting the most backlash and notoriety, but she is one of three Kentucky clerks who are not issuing marriage licenses due to their objection to same-sex marriage.

Casey County Clerk Casey Davis and Whitley County Clerk Kay Schwartz have also refused to issue marriage licenses because of religious convictions.

Political ramifications

The firestorm and national attention of the issue was already causing some heartburn for state Democrats, and Republican gubernatorial nominee Matt Bevin was more than eager to lay the issue at Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jack Conway’s feet.

Speaking to reporters in Louisville Tuesday, Bevin said he’d “love to see Attorney General Jack Conway do his job — period.”

“He partially is responsible for sending this whole situation to the point it is today, and now the taxpayers of Kentucky, because Jack Conway did not do his job, have a $2.3 million bill,” Bevin said.

The figure cited by Bevin comes from a tabulation of legal fees partially accrued during Gov. Steve Beshear’s appeal of U.S. District Court Judge John G. Heyburn’s ruling striking down Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriage, plus up to $260,000 to pay for attorneys hired by Beshear to appeal the decision.

In 2014, Conway refused to appeal the ruling, predicting costly legal bills and a likely unsuccessful challenge to Heyburn’s initial decision.

Conway’s campaign pointed Pure Politics to previous statements from Conway on the issue of clerks not issuing marriage licenses.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has spoken on the issue of same-sex marriage, and Attorney General Conway believes it’s time to move forward because the good-paying jobs are going to states with policies of inclusivity,” Conway spokesman Daniel Kemp said in a statement. “As he’s said before, Attorney General Conway is willing to look at a legislative solution in a regular session that upholds the Supreme Court decision and allows county clerks some flexibility so we can all move forward.”

Beshear again weighed in on the subject in a statement, acknowledging the “strong feelings on both sides of this issue.” However, he said the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken and same-sex marriage is now legal throughout the country.

“The future of the Rowan County Clerk is now in the hands of the courts,” Beshear said. “The legislature has placed the authority to issue marriage licenses squarely on county clerks by statute, and I have no legal authority to relieve her of her statutory duty by executive order or to remove her from office.”

“The General Assembly will convene in four months and can make any statutory changes it deems necessary at that time,” Beshear continued. “I see no need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money calling a special session of the General Assembly when 117 of 120 county clerks are doing their jobs.”

The matter has also spilled into the state’s attorney general campaign as Conway, the current holder of the office, determines whether he will appoint a special prosecutor to investigate charges of official misconduct charges against Davis. Rowan County Attorney Cecil Watkins made the request for a special prosecutor to Conway’s office Friday.

As Conway decides what he would do, Republican state Sen. Whitney Westerfield, who is running to replace Conway as attorney general, said he would not prosecute Davis if he was in the role.

Democratic candidate Andy Beshear, the governor’s son, essentially said he too would not prosecute the case as attorney general.

“This issue was brought before and is being handled by a federal court judge,” Beshear said in a statement to Pure Politcs. “That is the proper forum for the case to proceed.”

Additional reporting by Nick Storm and Kevin Wheatley.


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