FRANKFORT, Ky — Two months after it legalized gay marriage nationwide, the U.S. Supreme Court is being asked by a Kentucky county clerk for permission to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis objects to same-sex marriage for religious reasons. The Supreme Court says the constitution guarantees gay people have the right to marry, but Davis contends the First Amendment guarantees her the right of religious freedom.
She stopped issuing all marriage licenses the day after the Supreme Court effectively legalized gay marriage nationwide in June.
Two gay couples and two straight couples sued Davis, arguing she must fulfill her duties as an elected official. A federal judge ordered Davis to issue the licenses and an appeals court upheld that decision. Davis’ lawyers said they petitioned the Supreme Court on Friday to delay that decision until her appeal is finished, a process that could take months.
Her attorneys with the Christian law firm Liberty Counsel wrote in their appeal to the court that Davis is seeking “asylum for her conscience.”
Justice Elena Kagan, who joined the majority opinion effectively legalized gay marriage in the U.S., will hear Davis’ case.
University of Louisville law professor Sam Marcosson said he believes Kagan will deny Davis’ request based on the court’s earlier decision.
Davis has refused to comply with several court orders in recent weeks, turning away gay couples over and over. She says they could easily drive to a nearby county to get a marriage license. But gay couples argue they have a right to get a marriage license in the county where they live, work and pay taxes.
Davis has said she will not resign her $80,000-a-year job and will never issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples — even if the Supreme Court denies her request.
“If a (same-sex marriage) license is issued with Davis’ name, authorization and approval, no one can unring that bell,” she wrote the court. “That searing act of validation would forever echo in her conscience.”
Davis cannot be fired because she is an elected official. The Legislature could impeach her, but that is unlikely given that many state lawmakers share her beliefs. The Republican president of the state Senate spoke at a rally last week in support of Davis.
The gay couples that sued her could ask U.S. District Judge David Bunning to hold Davis in contempt. That would trigger another court hearing and would likely include testimony from Davis herself. The judge could then order hefty fines or even put her in jail until she complies with the order.
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