Rowan County clerk sued by ACLU after denying new marriage licenses while U.S. Rep. Yarmuth and Chief Justice Minton weigh in

07/02/2015 06:59 PM

As a handful of county clerks continue their refusal to issue new marriage licenses in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling last week, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth says those who continue to balk at the high court’s decision “ought to leave or do their job.”

Inaction by Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis has already prompted the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky to file suit on behalf of two homosexual couples and two heterosexual couples who were denied marriage licenses, the group announced late Thursday.

“Ms. Davis has the absolute right to believe whatever she wants about God, faith, and religion, but as a government official who swore an oath to uphold the law, she cannot pick and choose who she is going to serve, or which duties her office will perform based on her religious beliefs,” ACLU of Kentucky cooperating attorney Laura Landenwich said in a statement.

Davis isn’t alone.

Green County Clerk Billy Joe Lowe told WFPL Thursday that he plans to begin issuing marriage licenses again next week, but only to heterosexual couples. Casey Davis, Casey County clerk, told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on Wednesday that his conscience would not allow him to resign his office instead of refusing to issue marriage licenses.

“I believe that my job when I took it and the oath that I swore to, the law said that marriage was between one man and one woman,” Davis said. “… I’ve always tried to treat people the same all my life. I don’t want to ever be discriminatory to anyone, and if I’m not able to because of my belief, my heart, my conscience issue a same-sex marriage license, then I don’t think I should issue to anyone and I think that’s being fair to everyone.”

Such arguments, however, fall flat for Yarmuth.

“It’s kind of like if you’re a police officer, you join a police force and then you say, ‘Oh, by the way I’m a Quaker. I don’t want to carry a gun or a baton because I don’t believe in violence,’” Yarmuth, D-Louisville, told Pure Politics after the opening of a new kids’ exhibit at the Kentucky Science Center. “I mean, they wouldn’t remain in the police force very long.

“Again, I think it’s totally irresponsible and they ought to leave or do their job.”

Yarmuth predicted that efforts to circumvent the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage by the General Assembly would be swiftly resolved by the courts. No state lawmaker has suggested such a move in the upcoming legislative session.

“Once the Supreme Court speaks, that’s the law of the land,” Yarmuth said. “… If the legislature tried to do something to in any way restrict gay marriage, it would quickly be struck down by the federal court.”

Shortly after the high court rendered its 5-4 opinion, Gov. Steve Beshear issued a letter to county clerks directing them to set aside their personal beliefs and uphold the oaths they swore to the U.S. and Kentucky constitutions when they became state officers.

That’s a point echoed by Kentucky Supreme Court Justice John D. Minton in an email to elected judicial branch officials on Tuesday, although he said in a phone interview with Pure Politics that he had no indication that judges or circuit court clerks had denied services to homosexual married couples since Friday’s court ruling.

Minton’s email to judicial branch officials also indicated that the high court’s ruling would affect other laws pertaining to married or separated couples such as adoption and child support, and he said the Administrative Office of the Courts would be identifying such laws that need to be amended “to comply with the new law of the land.”

With such a sweeping change in Kentucky law, Minton said he ultimately hoped to provide judges and circuit court clerks more clarity of the decision’s effect.

“I think we all know that the impact will be a far-reaching impact and will be felt in the day-to-day operations of the family courts and other courts around the commonwealth,” Minton said in a phone interview. “The reaction’s been that we’ve got a lot of work out ahead of us to become familiar with the scope of the federal ruling and how we implement that and follow the spirit of that as we administer justice in Kentucky.”

Judges in Kentucky can perform marriages, but they’re not required to by law. Still, Minton said discrimination based on the sexes of those wishing to marry “would not be appropriate” for public officials.

“Judges will have to do what judges do, and that is they have to interpret the law and they will continue to do that,” Minton said. “The law as we have learned it and practiced it and lived it in Kentucky since the commonwealth has been in existence has had certain assumptions about the marriage relationship, and those assumptions have been now redefined by the federal constitutional interpretation.

“So it will mean that we’ll have to think in those terms when we as judges are called upon in cases to make rulings, and I’m confident that Kentucky judges are up to this. They will take this task on and they will follow the law.”

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 kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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