BREAKING: Kim Davis to appear in federal court (Second update)

Kim Davis, being obedient.

Kim Davis, being obedient. AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis listens to a customer following her office's refusal to issue marriage licenses at the Rowan County Courthouse in Morehead, Ky., Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015. AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis listens to a customer following her office’s refusal to issue marriage licenses at the Rowan County Courthouse in Morehead, Ky., Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015.

ASHLAND, Ky. (AP) —- The county clerk in Kentucky who has repeatedly defied court orders by refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples is set to go before a federal judge Thursday and could be held in contempt.

Rowan County clerk Kim Davis and her deputy clerks were summoned to appear before U.S. District Judge David Bunning after she repeatedly denied marriage licenses, cited her religious beliefs and “God’s authority.” If the judge holds Davis in contempt, he could give her hefty fines or jail time.

Before the hearing, hundreds of protesters on both sides of the issue filled the street in front of the federal courthouse. The demonstrators shouted at one another, chanted, sang hymns and waved signs, which ranged from the violent — turn to Jesus or burn — to simple statements of support. A small plane flew over the courthouse, carrying a banner that said: “Stand Firm Kim.”

Davis stopped issuing licenses to all couples in June after the U.S. Supreme Court effectively legalized gay marriage. Despite rulings against her, she’s turned away couples again and again.

The couples who originally sued in the case have asked Bunning to punish Davis with fines but not jail time.

By 11 a.m., when the hearing was supposed to begin, there was no sign of Davis entering through the front of the courthouse, where the throngs of demonstrators had gathered. It’s possible she used a gated entrance in the rear of the courthouse.

Davis, an Apostolic Christian, said earlier this week she never imagined this day would come.

“I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will. To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God’s word,” her statement said.

Her critics mock this moral stand, noting that Davis is on her fourth husband after being divorced three times.

Davis served as her mother’s deputy in the clerk’s office for 27 years before she was elected as a Democrat to succeed her mother in November. Davis’ own son is on the staff.

As an elected official, she can be removed only if the Legislature impeaches her, which is unlikely in a deeply conservative state.

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