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Kentucky clerks follow law, but face tremendous conflict

Kentucky clerks follow law, but face tremendous conflict
Surrounded by the media, David Moore, center, and his partner David Ermold attempt to apply for a marriage license at the Rowan County Courthouse in Morehead, Ky., Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015.
Surrounded by the media, David Moore, center, and his partner David Ermold attempt to apply for a marriage license at the Rowan County Courthouse in Morehead, Ky., Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015. AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (AP) — Clerk Mike Johnston prays twice a day, once each morning and once each night, and asks the Lord to understand the decision he made to license same-sex marriage.

“It’s still on my heart,” said Johnston, whose rural Carter County sits just to the east of Rowan County, where clerk Kim Davis sparked a national furor by refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, a decision that landed her in jail.

Johnston is one of Kentucky’s 119 other clerks, many of them deeply religious, who watched the Kim Davis saga unfold on national television while trying to reconcile their own faith and their oath of office. Sixteen of them sent pleading letters to the governor noting their own religious objections. But when forced to make a decision, only two have taken a stand as dramatic as Davis and refused to issue licenses.

And others say they find the controversy now swirling around their job title humiliating.

“I wish (Davis) would just quit, because she’s embarrassing everybody,” said Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins, whose office serves the state’s second-largest city, Lexington.

After the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in June, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear ordered clerks across the state to issue licenses, launching them along markedly different paths. The clerk in Louisville, Bobbie Holsclaw, issued licenses that very day and the mayor greeted happy couples with bottles of champagne.

Blevins, too, had no problem. He supports gay rights and explained his response in seven words: “When the law changes, your job changes.”

But 100 miles east, Johnston prayed over the decision he knew he would have to make. He consulted several ministers. He considered the oath he swore when he took his office a decade ago. And in the end, he chose to issue licenses.

“I just pray that I’m not doing anything wrong,” he says now, two weeks after he issued his first and only license for a same-sex marriage. “It’s always on my conscience. The devil ain’t going to let it die; he wants us to be worried. The devil is everywhere, trying to get you to make the wrong decision.”

Casey County Clerk Casey Davis and Whitley Clerk Kay Schwartz have joined Kim Davis in halting all marriage licenses out of their office. Casey Davis, who recently rode a bicycle across Kentucky to show support for Davis, said last week that he is willing to go to jail for his beliefs, too.

Schwartz did not return a series of phone messages.

Others clerks told The Associated Press they are opposed to same-sex marriage, but they weighed their convictions against their oath of office and decided to issue the licenses anyway.

“If I can’t abide by the law, I’d have to resign,” said Teresa Sheffield, the clerk of Monroe County. “According to the Bible, it’s wrong. But I issue them to a lot of people and we’re all sinners.”

Boone County Clerk Kenny Brown, a Baptist who has issued around 10 licenses to same-sex couples despite his religious objections, is leading a charge to get legislators to rewrite the law when they return to the statehouse in January. He hopes lawmakers take marriage licensing out of the hands of the clerks and reroute it to a state agency.

“It was tough. I thought about resigning,” he said. “But I came to the conclusion that the best thing for me to do was to stay here, do the job the people elected me to do and fight on a different level.”

© 2015, Associated Press, All Rights Reserved.
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