Questions and Answers about Kentucky's gay marriage case

AP News
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Posted: Sep 01, 2015 5:59 PM

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in June, but no one in Rowan County, Kentucky, has been able to get married since then.

Here's why:

WHAT'S DIFFERENT ABOUT KENTUCKY?

County clerks issue marriage licenses in Kentucky. Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis is a Christian, a member of the apostolic church, and believes gay marriage is a sin. She also believes it would be a sin for her to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple because that license would have her name on it. Rather than discriminate between gay and straight couples, she stopped issuing all marriage licenses the day after the Supreme Court's ruling.

CAN SHE DO THAT?

Not according to the courts. As a constitutionally elected officer, Davis is her own boss. No one can force her to do anything. While state law requires county clerks to issue marriage licenses to all eligible applicants, Davis says her First Amendment rights protect her religious freedom, but federal courts rejected that argument.

CAN SHE BE FIRED FOR NOT DOING HER JOB?

Yes, but it's extremely difficult. About the only way she can be removed from office would be for the state legislature to impeach her. That is unlikely, given the conservative makeup of the state General Assembly. The state could charge her with official misconduct, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. But Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway would have to appoint a special prosecutor to make that happen. It would be a politically risky move for Conway, who is running for governor in a conservative state.

HAS ANYONE SUED HER?

Yes. Six couples. Four of them - two straight couples and two gay couples - teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union for one lawsuit. After two hearings and many briefs, a federal judge ordered Davis to issue the marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Davis appealed to the 6th U.S. Court of Appeals and lost. She appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and lost again.

SO DID SHE START ISSUING LICENSES?

No. On Tuesday, Davis again denied several same-sex couples' request for marriage licenses. She said she was acting under "God's authority."

HOW CAN SHE GET AWAY WITH DEFYING A FEDERAL COURT ORDER?

She can't, at least not without consequences. Four couples have asked a federal judge to punish her for refusing to issue the licenses. The judge could even throw her in jail until she agrees to issue the licenses. But the couples have specifically asked the judge not to do that. Instead, they've asked him to make her pay potentially heavy fines.

HOW MUCH IS THE FINE?

We don't know yet. The judge has ordered Davis and her six deputy clerks to attend a federal court hearing Thursday. There, he will ask Davis why she has not complied with his order and hear arguments from the other side on what fines he should impose. He'll make a decision sometime after that.

THEN WHAT HAPPENS?

Davis will either pay the fine or if she does not, that could trigger more sanctions.