MOREHEAD, Ky. — A county clerk who invoked “God’s authority” as she defied the U.S. Supreme Court yet again on gay marriage Tuesday refused to resign after a federal judge summoned her to explain why she should not held in contempt.
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis turned away several gay and lesbian couples who sought marriage licenses — some for a fifth time — even though the Supreme Court turned away her last-ditch appeal the night before.
“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,” she said through her lawyers.
“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,” her statement said.
For David Moore and David Ermold, it was their third rejection at the courthouse. Davis, facing the couples and a packed crowd of reporters and activists, told them to leave.
“We’re not leaving until we have a license,” Ermold responded.
“Then you’re going to have a long day,” Davis replied.
Davis then retreated into her inner office, where closed blinds sheltered her from the cameras and rival demonstrations outside.
“Praise the Lord!” her supporters shouted. “Stand your ground!”
Other activists yelled “Do your job!” They called Davis a bigot and said the government is not a theocracy.
The sheriff moved everyone to the courthouse lawn, where each side tried to out-do the other with chanting, hymn-singing and sign-waving.
Davis stopped issuing all marriage licenses in June after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage across the nation.
Four couples — two gay, two straight — then sued to force her to fulfil her duties as an elected official despite her personal religious faith, or step aside. Other couples also sued. A federal order to issue the licenses was upheld in appellate court. Her lawyers with Liberty Counsel then asked the Supreme Court for what they called “asylum for her conscience.”
After the full court declined to intervene Monday night, removing any remaining legal ground for Davis’ position, the couples decided to try again, only to be turned away. For James Yates and Will Smith Jr., it was their fifth rejection.
“It’s just too hard right now,” Yates said, choking back tears and holding hands with Smith as they rushed to their car.
Despite the delays, the couples’ lawyers asked the judge to punish her with fines, not jail.
“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.”
Davis served as her mother’s deputy for 27 years before she was elected as a Democrat to succeed her in November. Davis’ own son is on the staff. As an elected official, Davis can’t be fired from her $80,000-a-year job. Impeachment would have to wait until the Legislature’s regular session next year, or a costly special session.
Davis refused to concede her religious freedom argument even after U.S. District Judge David Bunning ordered Davis and her six deputy clerks to appear at 11 a.m. on Thursday at the federal court in Ashland. Davis has said previously that four of her deputies share her beliefs, one was ambiguous and one did not have a problem with issuing licenses to same-sex couples.
Outside, activists lined up on either side of the courthouse entrance.
“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 they 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.”