MOREHEAD, Kentucky — Not long ago, Kim Davis might have seemed an unlikely candidate to wage a moral war over the institution of marriage. She has acknowledged through her attorney that she had made “major mistakes” before she was born again as a Christian.
But that Sunday morning, as the preacher spoke from the book of Galatians, Davis — then 44 years old — repented and pledged the rest of her life to the service of the Lord.
Now as a Kentucky county clerk, Davis is refusing to surrender in a battle over who can and can’t be wed. She invoked “God’s authority” Tuesday as she defied a series of federal court orders and once again denied marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She has become a symbol of defiance, unlike the vast majority of officials across America who have not challenged the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in June.
Since then, couples have stood in her office and wept. They have shouted and called her a bigot. They have tried to reason with her.
But Davis, who usually wears a skirt that reaches her ankles and her hair to her waist, refuses to relent, even under the threat of a contempt of court charge, steep fines or jail time.
“She has found herself in a situation she never envisioned,” said Mat Staver, founder of the Christian law firm Liberty Counsel that is representing Davis in her bid to refuse marriage licenses.
After the Supreme Court’s decision, Davis announced she would issue no more marriage licenses.
Four couples, two gay and two straight, sued her, arguing she must fulfill her duties as an elected official despite her personal Christian faith. U.S. District Judge David Bunning ordered her to issue the licenses, an appeals court affirmed that order, and the Supreme Court on Monday refused to intervene, leaving her no more legal options.
“It is a heaven or hell decision,” she said in a statement.
At the time she repented in the church pew, Davis had been divorced three times, according to court records. Her current husband, Joe Davis, arrived at the courthouse Tuesday to check in on his wife as a protest raged on the courthouse lawn. It’s been an ordeal for her, he said. People have threatened to kill her and set their house on fire.
He said he and his wife have been together 19 years, but declined to elaborate on how much of that time they’ve spent married.
Court records detail Kim Davis’ turbulent marital history: She has been married to her current husband twice, with a divorce and another husband in between.
She acknowledged in a 2008 divorce filing having had two children in 1994 while she was not married.
Instead, Davis turned them away. On their way out, Miller and Roberts passed David Ermold and David Moore, 17 years a couple. “Denied again,” Roberts whispered in Moore’s ear.
Ermold said he almost wept. They demanded to talk to Davis, who emerged briefly on the other side of the counter.
“We’re not leaving until we have a license,” Ermold told her.
“Then you’re going to have a long day,” Davis replied. She retreated into her office, closed the door and shut the blinds as a tense standoff erupted in the office around her. Dozens from both sides of the issue packed into the lobby.
“Do your job,” marriage equality activists chanted.
“Stand firm,” Davis’ supporters shouted back. They compared her to the Biblical figures Paul and Silas, imprisoned for their faith and rescued by God.
But lawyers for the rejected couples, in asking the judge to hold her in contempt of court, requested that she not be sent to jail, and instead be issued a fine “sufficiently serious and increasingly onerous” to “compel her immediate compliance without delay.”
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