MOREHEAD, Ky. -— A Kentucky clerk who defied a federal judge’s order to issue marriage licenses and turned away four gay couples has until Monday to convince the judge to delay his mandate.
U.S. District Judge David L. Bunning rejected Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis’ claim that her Christian faith should exempt her from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and ordered her on Wednesday to hand out the licenses. But her office kept denying them.
As the attorneys for gay and straight couples seeking a license warned they could request that she be held in contempt, Bunning ordered Davis to submit a final plea to stay his decision by Monday.
The fight in this eastern Kentucky college town began soon after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in June. Davis was among a handful of clerks across the country to cite her Christian beliefs and declare she would no longer hand out licenses to any couples, gay or straight.
Legal experts have likened the case to the resistance some local officials in the South put up five decades ago after the Supreme Court legalized interracial marriage.
“We’re going to keep coming back,” said Karen Roberts, shaking after she was denied a license to marry April Miller, her partner of 11 years. “We’re going to fight this to the very end.”
Three other couples streamed into the clerk’s office throughout the morning, and all were denied.
Staff in Davis’ office said she was on vacation. Though she has six employees authorized to issue licenses, deputy clerk Nathan Davis said the office was advised by its attorneys with the Christian law firm Liberty Counsel to continue refusing same-sex couples as it appeals the judge’s decision. They handed one couple who demanded an explanation a Post-it note with Liberty Counsel’s toll-free phone number.
“Kim Davis is just an example of what’s going to be happening not only to other clerks but to other people who are going to be confronted with this issue and we think that this is a serious matter that needs to be decided by a higher court, even the Supreme Court,” Liberty Counsel founder Mathew Staver said.
The couples said the Supreme Court already decided the issue when it legalized same-sex marriage in June. That day, Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear told the clerks to issue licenses or resign.
A number objected. Lawrence County Clerk Chris Jobe, president of the Kentucky Clerks Association, has said nearly 60 of the state’s 120 clerks pledged to send a letter to Beshear, asking that he call a special session to find a way to accommodate their faiths. Beshear’s office said they received letters from 17 clerks, half of whom have told The Associated Press they have either been issuing licenses despite their religious objections, or would issue one if a same-sex couple applied. The others did not respond to message and emails.
Bunning said in his ruling Wednesday that Davis has likely violated the U.S. Constitution’s protection against the establishment of a religion by “openly adopting a policy that promotes her own religious convictions at the expenses of others.”