Kentucky clerk can continue refusing to issue marriage licenses

David Ermold, right, attempts to hand Rowan County clerks Nathan Davis, left, and Roberta Earley, second from left, a copy of the ruling from U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning, instructing the county to start issuing marriage licenses, in Morehead, Ky., Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015.

David Ermold, right, attempts to hand Rowan County clerks Nathan Davis, left, and Roberta Earley, second from left, a copy of the ruling from U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning, instructing the county to start issuing marriage licenses, in Morehead, Ky., Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015. AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

David Ermold, right, attempts to hand Rowan County clerks Nathan Davis, left, and Roberta Earley, second from left, a copy of the ruling from U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning, instructing the county to start issuing marriage licenses, in Morehead, Ky., Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015. AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

David Ermold, right, attempts to hand Rowan County clerks Nathan Davis, left, and Roberta Earley, second from left, a copy of the ruling from U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning, instructing the county to start issuing marriage licenses, in Morehead, Ky., Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015.

MOREHEAD, Ky. — Two same-sex couples in this small eastern Kentucky county got everything they wanted in a ruling from a federal judge Monday.

Except for one sentence.

U.S. District Judge David Bunning denied Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis’ request to delay his ruling from last week ordering her to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. That ruling followed the U.S. Supreme Court‘s decision in June legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. But Bunning then delayed his own decision, effectively granting Davis’ request while also denying it.

“If the Court decided to delay enforcement of its Order while Davis pursues an unpromising appeal, it would essentially give Plaintiffs a favorable legal ruling with no teeth and prolong the likely violation of their constitutional rights,” Bunning wrote.

But Bunning acknowledged that “emotions are running high on both sides of this debate” and said he would delay his ruling while Davis appeals to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Attorneys on both sides disagreed about the implications. Dan Canon, representing the gay couples, said Davis remains under the judge’s original order. But Mat Staver, who represents Davis and is the founder of Florida-based Liberty Counsel, said the convoluted order essentially grants her request for more time.

What is clear is that Davis will continue refusing to issue marriage licenses to anyone in this county of about 23,000 people, home to Morehead State University in the Appalachian foothills of eastern Kentucky. Until the case is resolved, no new wedding can be legally recognized in Rowan County unless the couple obtain a marriage license somewhere else.

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