MOREHEAD, Ky. (BP) — Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis remained in jail Friday (Sept. 4) even as same-sex couples received marriage licenses from her office.
William Smith and James Yates were the first of at least three gay couples to obtain licenses from deputy clerks in Rowan County after Davis refused for two months to grant the documents, citing her beliefs as a Christian. Five of Davis’ deputy clerks agreed Thursday (Sept. 3) to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. They told federal judge David Bunning in his Ashland, Ky., courtroom they would comply after he sent Davis to jail earlier in the day for contempt in refusing to obey his previous order to grant licenses to the couples.
Davis will stay in jail for at least a week, and he will reconsider his ruling after the deputy clerks have had the opportunity to obey his order, Bunning said, according to the Associated Press. After the deputy clerks agreed to issue licenses, Bunning offered to release Davis if she agreed not to interfere, but she declined, AP reported.
Despite Davis’ request for the Kentucky legislature to pass a bill to protect her rights of conscience while maintaining her clerk’s job, Gov. Steve Beshear declined again Sept. 3 to call a special session, AP reported. The legislature is not scheduled to convene until January.
Religious freedom advocates, including Southern Baptist leaders, continued to call for Beshear, a Democrat, and the state legislature to act to resolve the dilemma.
Beshear “has stood idly by and offered no relief, despite pleas from thousands of Kentuckians who’ve asked him to provide leadership and seek legislative compromise in this conflict,” Russell Moore and Andrew Walker wrote in a Sept. 4 post. “This inaction on the part of the governor represents gross indifference to his duties as governor.
“The dramatic events and drastic steps in Kentucky are not necessary given the multiple ways that states can protect individual conscience while still upholding the rule of law,” said Moore and Walker. Moore is president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), and Walker is the ERLC’s director of policy studies.
One of Davis’ lawyers — Liberty Counsel Chairman Mat Staver — decried Bunning’s jailing of Davis, a punishment he inflicted despite a request by lawyers for the same-sex couples that she only be fined.
“Are we not more tolerant, more rational than we appear to the outside world today?” Staver said in a Sept. 4 statement issued before holding a mid-afternoon news conference. “Is this the kind of America we want, where good people are imprisoned because of their Judeo-Christian beliefs and values? I do not think this is the America people want. Yesterday was a tragic day in America. What the future holds, we do not know. But yesterday was a turning point one way or another. The future is yet unwritten. It is up to the American people to decide.”
The government could resolve this conflict by providing accommodations for county clerks with conscientious objections to issuing licenses to same-sex couples, Staver and other religious freedom advocates have said. Among the accommodations suggested in Davis’ case by Liberty Counsel are removing her name from marriage licenses and permitting the county’s chief executive to issue licenses.
Davis’ husband, Joe, was at the county clerk’s office Sept. 4 and said his wife was in good spirits after spending the night in jail, according to AP.
“She’s not going to resign at all,” Joe Davis said while holding a sign that read “Welcome to Sodom and Gomorrah.” He added, “It’s a matter of telling Bunning he ain’t the boss.”
The Davises still support her deputy clerks, he said. He ate with them Thursday at a restaurant, AP reported, and said he told them, “I loved them and I was proud of them.”
One deputy clerk — Nathan Davis, Kim Davis’ son — refused to agree to issue marriage licenses.
Smith and Yates, the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license in the eastern Kentucky county, had been turned away five times by Davis’ office before Sept. 4.
Davis’ jailing is the latest fallout from the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26 decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. It came three days after the high court denied her request to block enforcement of Bunning’s order. She had earlier appealed the order to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, but Bunning’s order remains in effect while her appeal is considered.
The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling heightened concerns among religious liberty advocates regarding the threat legalized gay marriage poses to Christian individuals and institutions, as well as other defenders of biblical, traditional marriage.
The opinion prompted some country clerks to resign their jobs rather than issue licenses to gay couples, while others have held onto their jobs while refusing to provide licenses. In the private sector, some businesses were closed even before the Supreme Court ruling as a result of the owners’ refusal to compromise their belief that marriage is only between a man and a woman. Wedding vendors — including florists, photographers and bakers — have been especially vulnerable in states where gay marriage was already legal.
In their Sept. 4 blog post, Moore and Walker summarize the four issues involved in Davis’ case this way:
“The events in Kentucky are the result of judicial overstep on the part of the Supreme Court. Secondly, government inaction by both the Kentucky legislative and executive branches has failed to resolve this conflict where it feasibly could. Third, needless escalation by Judge Bunning on arresting Mrs. Davis for an unspecified amount of time has placed an otherwise law-abiding citizen in prison. Fourth, in this dispute, there are differences concerning religious liberty when it involves government employees and private citizens.”
The blog post is available at erlc.com/article/need-we-jail-each-other-over-marriage-licenses.
Davis, a Democrat, has been described in news reports as an Apostolic Christian. She actively participates in her church and leads a weekly Bible study at a local jail, according to a legal document filed with the federal court.
She has been married four times, according to court records obtained by U.S. News and World Report. The most recent of her three divorces came in 2008, the magazine reported Sept. 1.
Davis became a Christian more than four years ago after attending church in response to the dying wish of her mother-in-law, Davis said in a Sept. 1 written statement.
“There I heard a message of grace and forgiveness and surrendered my life to Jesus Christ,” she said of that 2011 service. “I am not perfect. No one is. But I am forgiven and I love my Lord and must be obedient to Him and to the Word of God.”