Kentucky clerk jailed after repeatedly refusing to give marriage licences to gay couples

ASHLAND, Ky. — A defiant county clerk was sent to jail for contempt Thursday after insisting that her “conscience will not allow” her to follow a federal judge’s orders to issue marriage licences to gay couples.

“God’s moral law conflicts with my job duties,” Rowan County Clerk told U.S. District Judge David Bunning. “You can’t be separated from something that’s in your heart and in your soul.”

The judge said she left him with no alternative but to jail her, since fines alone would not change her mind. A federal marshal escorted her, without handcuffs, out of the courtroom.

AP Photo/Timothy D. EasleyAP Photo/Timothy D. EasleyRowan County Clerk Kim Davis, right, talks with David Moore following her office's refusal to issue marriage licences at the Rowan County Courthouse in Morehead, Ky., Tuesday.

“Her good faith belief is simply not a viable defence,” Bunning said, noting that allowing an individual’s beliefs to supersede the court’s authority would set a dangerous precedent.

“I myself have genuinely held religious beliefs,” the judge said, but “I took an oath.”

“Mrs. Davis took an oath,” he added. “Oaths mean things.”

Hundreds of people chanted and screamed, “Love won! Love won!” as word reached the dueling crowds outside.

Ty Wright/Getty ImagesTy Wright/Getty ImagesProtestors both supporting and opposing same-sex marriage gather in front of the federal courthouse Thursday in Ashland, Kentucky. Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk of Courts, appeared at a contempt of court hearing at the courthouse.

The judge also told all five of the clerk’s deputies, including her son, Nathan Davis, that they are free to issue licences to all applicants while Davis is held in contempt, but would also face fines or jail if they refuse to comply. He told them to meet with lawyers and consider their fates before returning to his courtroom later Thursday to reveal their decisions.

Davis is being represented by the Liberty Counsel, an organization that advocates in court for religious freedoms. Her lawyer argued that the deputy clerks cannot issue licences against Davis’ authority, but the judge overruled this objection.

Before she was led away, Davis explained that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June that legalized gay marriage nationwide conflicts with the vows she made when she became a born-again Christian.

 Ty Wright/Getty Images Ty Wright/Getty ImagesA pastor preaches to protestors opposing same-sex marriage in front of the federal courthouse Thursday.

“I promised to love Him with all my heart, mind and soul because I wanted to make heaven my home,” Davis said during about 20 minutes of emotional testimony. She described how she became a Christian and said she is unable to believe anything else.

April Miller, who has been denied a marriage licence four times since the high court’s ruling, testified that she voted for Kim Davis last year and has no desire to change the clerk’s personal beliefs. She simply wants to be treated equally in the community where she lives, she said. One of Davis’ deputies told her to apply in a different county, but “that’s kind of like saying we don’t want gays or lesbians here. We don’t think you are valuable,” she said.

Outside, demonstrators shouted, sang and waved signs. A small plane flew overhead, displaying a “Stand Firm Kim” banner.

Davis, an Apostolic Christian whose critics mock her for being on her fourth marriage, stopped issuing licences to all couples after the Supreme Court ruling, and the courts have consistently ruled against her since then. But many supporters have rallied around her, including Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who called her personally the day before.

“People are calling the office all the time asking to send money,” she testified. “I myself have not solicited any money.”

Davis said she hopes the Legislature will change Kentucky laws to find some way for her to keep her job while following her conscience. But unless the governor convenes a costly special session, they won’t meet until next year. “Hopefully our legislature will get something taken care of,” Davis told the judge.

Until then, the judge said, he has no alternative but to keep her behind bars as long as she refuses to follow the law.

“The legislative and executive branches do have the ability to make changes,” Bunning said. “It’s not this court’s job to make changes. I don’t write law.”

Davis served as her mother’s deputy in the clerk’s office for 27 years before she was elected as a Democrat to succeed her mother in November. As an elected official, she can be removed only if the Legislature impeaches her, which is unlikely in a deeply conservative state.

Judge Bunning is the son of Jim Bunning, the Hall of Fame pitcher for the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies who served two terms as Kentucky’s junior U.S. Senator. Former Republican President George W. Bush nominated David Bunning for a lifetime position as a federal judge in 2001 when he was just 35 years old, halfway through his dad’s first term in the Senate.

But Bunning has been anything but a sure thing for conservative causes, ruling in 2007 to overturn a partial-birth abortion ban, and in 2003 to allow a Gay-Straight Alliance to meet on their high school campus.

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