News (USA)

Clerk allowed to continue denying licenses to same-sex couples

Clerk allowed to continue denying licenses to same-sex couples
Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 2.50.07 PM
AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

MOREHEAD, Kentucky — A county clerk in the state of Kentucky who objects to same-sex marriage was given time on Monday to continue denying licenses to gays and lesbians while she takes her religious objections case to a federal appeals court.

A judge ordered Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis last week to issue licenses to two gay couples despite her objections, and on Monday, U.S. District Judge David Bunning said Davis is not entitled to any more delays. But because “emotions are running high on both sides of this debate,” he agreed to put off Monday’s decision while she takes her case to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal.

The ruling means the Rowan County Clerk can continue refusing to issue any licenses to couples, gay or straight, thus preventing people from getting marriage licenses in the county where they live, work and pay taxes, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark June decision legalizing same-sex marriage across America.

Attorneys on both sides disagreed about the implications. Dan Canon, representing the gay couples, said Davis remains under the judge’s 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.

Kentucky’s governor already told Davis to issue the licenses immediately, or resign. Davis refused to do either, saying she spent months consulting God before deciding that any use of her authority to endorse a same-sex marriage — even delegating the task to a non-objector — would be a sin.

“Stays of court orders are common to maintain the status quo pending appeals, but this delay only enables the continuation “of an unlawful policy,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys complained.

Davis wants Kentucky lawmakers to pass a law allowing county clerks to opt out of issuing marriage licenses for religious reasons.

But Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear has declined to call a special session to do that. Davis faces fines and a possible jail sentence for contempt of court if she loses the lawsuit, but she can only be impeached from her $80,000 a year job by the state legislature, and lawmakers won’t reconvene until January.

Around the U.S., most opponents of gay and lesbian marriage rights are complying with the Supreme Court decision. Some other objectors in Kentucky submitted to the legal authorities after Beshear told them to begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples, or resign.

Kim Davis is one of the last holdouts, and apparently the first to be challenged in federal court, putting her and tiny Rowan County in the middle of one of the country’s largest social upheavals.

Davis’ lawyers compare her to other religious objectors, such as a nurse being forced to perform an abortion, a non-combatant ordered to fire on an enemy soldier, or a state official forced to participate in a convicted prisoner’s execution.

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