“This is not something I decided because of this decision that came down,” Davis testified in federal court last month. “It was thought-out and, you know, I sought God on it.”
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. But it also “ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths.”
Bunning, and now the court of appeals, are left with the narrow issue of whether that ruling infringes on a local elected official’s religious beliefs.
Bunning says no, arguing that Davis is “free to believe that marriage is a union between one man and one woman, as many Americans do.”
“However, her religious convictions cannot excuse her from performing the duties that she took an oath to perform as Rowan County Clerk,” he wrote last week.
Davis’ lawyers compare her to other religious objectors, such as a nurse being forced to perform an abortion, a noncombatant ordered to fire on an enemy soldier, or a state official forced to participate in a convicted prisoner’s execution.
Clerking has been a family business in Rowan County. Davis worked for her mother for 27 years before replacing her in the elected post this year, and her son Nathan now works for her. He personally turned away a gay couple last week.
Around the U.S., most opponents of gay and lesbian marriage rights are complying with the high court. Some other objectors in Kentucky submitted to the legal authorities after Democratic Gov. Steve 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 wants Kentucky lawmakers to allow county clerks to opt out of issuing marriage licenses for religious reasons. But the governor has declined to call a special session. Davis faces fines and possible jail time for contempt of court if she loses her challenge and still refuses to issue licenses. But she can only be impeached from her $80,000 a year job by the legislature, and impeachment proceedings are unlikely even after the lawmakers reconvene in January.