A Kentucky county clerk not only lost at the U.S. Supreme Court Aug. 31 but now faces a likely contempt of court ruling for again refusing to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis and her deputies turned away gay couples seeking marriage licenses Sept. 1 at their office in the eastern Kentucky town of Morehead. Their refusal came after the high court denied Davis’ request to block enforcement of a federal judge’s order that she issue licenses for same-sex marriages.
Lawyers for the gay couples subsequently filed a contempt of court motion against Davis, The Louisville Courier-Journal reported. David Bunning, the federal judge who previously ordered Davis to issue licenses, will consider Thursday the request she be held in contempt, according to the newspaper.
The Supreme Court’s denial of Davis’ application for a stay of the order came two months after the justices legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. That 5-4 ruling June 26 prompted some country clerks to resign their jobs rather than issue licenses to gay couples. Davis stopped issuing all marriage licenses and has refused to resign, appealing for an accommodation of her religious beliefs in order for her to keep her job.
American history “is filled with accommodations for people’s religious freedom and conscience,” Davis said Sept. 1 in a statement issued by Liberty Counsel, a religious freedom advocacy organization that represents her. “I want to continue to perform my duties, but I also am requesting what our Founders envisioned – that conscience and religious freedom would be protected.”
Image captured from ABC News video
Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, found the Supreme Court’s decision unsurprising, since the same justices ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. “This case is just another step along the sad road where erotic liberty trumps religious liberty in the United States,” he said.
“This can’t be an easy stand for Mrs. Davis to take,” Chitwood said. “The criticism is sharp, and the potential for fines and even jail time is very real. No matter how this plays out, we can all agree she’s facing an unenviable situation, and Christians across this country need to be praying for her.”
Tom James, president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, said he supports Davis.
“To issue the license would not only violate her conscience but also her protection under the First Amendment of our Constitution, which provides for the free exercise of religion,” said James, pastor of Eastwood Baptist Church in Bowling Green, in a written statement. “Christianity is not something a person can stop practicing when they go to work or school; our relationship with Christ should be marked by deeply held convictions that permeate all of who we are.
“We as a society are moving towards removing all of God’s standards and to silence all of God’s children who seek to speak light and truth in a society that is becoming darker by the minute,” he said.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called it “a sad development.”
He said the government “ought to provide its employees with all protections possible to the furtherance of maintaining public order.”
“There are better solutions available than the one in Kentucky that needlessly pits the rule of law against freedom of conscience,” Moore said in written comments. “The governor and legislature of Kentucky could act to accommodate county clerks whose consciences object to issuing same-sex marriage licenses while still maintaining the rule of law.”
The Supreme Court opinion in June did not rule out accommodations for the conscience rights of religious Americans, Liberty Counsel Chairman Mat Staver said Aug. 31 before the high court issued its denial.
“Providing religious conviction accommodations is not antithetical for public employees,” Staver said in a written release. “Throughout our history the courts have accommodated people’s deeply held religious beliefs.”
Among the accommodations suggested to the Supreme Court, Staver said, were removing Davis’ name from marriage licenses and permitting the county’s chief executive to issue licenses.
David Moore and David Ermold were among the same-sex couples whose requests for marriage licenses were rejected by Davis’ office Sept. 1.
“Who has to go through this to get married? This is 2015. This is America. This is what we pay taxes for – to be treated like this. To be discriminated against,” Moore told Davis, according to The Courier-Journal.
When asked under whose authority she was refusing to issue licenses, Davis said, “Under God’s authority.”
In her statement issued by Liberty Counsel, Davis said, “To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience.
“To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God’s Word. It is a matter of religious liberty,” said Davis, who served as a deputy clerk for 27 years before winning election last year as county clerk.
Steven Shapiro, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said in a written statement, “The duty of public officials is to enforce the law, not place themselves above it.” The ACLU and ACLU of Kentucky filed the contempt motions with Bunning.
Davis has appealed Bunning’s order to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, but a court delay preventing enforcement of the order expired Aug. 31.
She has sued Gov. Steve Beshear for ordering the state’s county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. David Roach, chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, contributed to this article.)