MOREHEAD, Ky. (AP) — A county clerk in Kentucky who invoked “God’s authority” Tuesday for defying the U.S. Supreme Court on gay marriage has been summoned by a federal judge to explain why she should not be fined or jailed for contempt.
U.S. District Judge David Bunning moved swiftly after Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis insisted yet again Tuesday that her religious beliefs prevent her from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Davis turned several couples away and then retreated into her office, where her door and blinds were closed to the raucous scene outside.
Davis then issued a statement refusing to resign or concede her position.
“To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision,” her statement said. “I was elected by the people to serve as the County Clerk. I intend to continue to serve the people of Rowan County, but I cannot violate my conscience.”
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene Monday night, leaving Davis no legal ground for her continued refusal. Lawyers for couples who were denied licenses asked the judge Tuesday to find her in contempt, but punish her with only financial penalties, not jail time.
“Since Defendant Davis continues to collect compensation from the Commonwealth for duties she fails to perform,” they asked Bunning to “impose financial penalties sufficiently serious and increasingly onerous” to compel her immediate compliance without delay.
Rowan County Attorney Cecil Watkins says the federal court alerted him that a hearing is scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday in Ashland, and that Davis along with her entire staff has been summoned to appear.
As an elected official, Davis can’t be fired; her impeachment would have to wait until the Legislature’s regular session next year or a costly special session.
Davis rejected David Moore and David Ermold’s license request for a fourth time, and then told them to leave.
“We’re not leaving until we have a license,” Ermold said as reporters and cameras surrounded them.
“Then you’re going to have a long day,” Davis told him, and then retreated into her inner office.
From the back of the room, Davis’ supporters said: “Praise the Lord! … Stand your ground.”
Other activists shouted that Davis is a bigot and told her: “Do your job.”
The sheriff then moved everyone out to the courthouse lawn, where James Yates and Will Smith Jr., who were denied a license for a fifth time, left red-eyed and shaking.
“It’s just too hard right now,” Yates said, choking back tears and holding hands as they rushed to their car.
Davis was elected last November as a Democrat, succeeding her mother in the office she had held for 37 years, according to the Morehead News. Her staff includes her son.
Davis stopped issuing all marriage licenses after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage across the nation in June. Two gay couples and two straight couples sued, arguing that she must fulfill her duties as an elected official despite her personal religious faith. Other couples also sued. A federal judge ordered her to issue the licenses, and an appeals court upheld that decision.
Her lawyers with the Liberty Counsel filed a last-ditch request Friday to the Supreme Court, seeking what they called “asylum for her conscience” that would enable her to continue denying marriage licenses even though she’s lost her case in every lower court.
Justice Elena Kagan, who oversees the 6th district, referred the request to the full court, which denied it without comment.
Amid Tuesday’s developments, two groups lined up on either side of the courthouse entrance to chant at each other.
“At the end of the day, we have to stand before God, which has higher authority than the Supreme Court,” said Randy Smith, leading the group supporting Davis.
Ermold and Moore, together for 17 years, cried and swayed as walked out to chants from the clerk’s supporters.
“I feel sad, I feel devastated,” Ermold said. “I feel like I’ve been humiliated on such a national level, I can’t even comprehend it.”
The clerk’s husband, Joe Davis, came by to check on his wife. He said she has received death threats but remains committed to her faith and is “standing for God.” As for himself, he said he believes in the Second Amendment: “I’m an old redneck hillbilly, that’s all I’ve got to say. Don’t come knocking on my door.”
He pointed to the gay rights protesters gathered on the courthouse lawn and said: “They want us to accept their beliefs and their ways. But they won’t accept our beliefs and our ways.”
Associated Press writer Adam Beam in Lexington, Kentucky, contributed.
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