Details on Kentucky clerk who won't grant marriage licenses

AP News
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Posted: Sep 09, 2015 9:44 AM
Details on Kentucky clerk who won't grant marriage licenses

MOREHEAD, Ky. (AP) — A county clerk in Kentucky was found in contempt of court and jailed for several days over her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She was released Tuesday. She'll return to work Friday or Monday, her lawyers say.

A look at the case:

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JAIL TIME

U.S. District Judge David Bunning ruled Thursday that Rowan County clerk Kim Davis was in contempt of court for refusing his order to issue marriage licenses. He ordered her to jail.

Bunning offered to release Davis that day if she promised not to interfere with the five of her six employees who said they would start issuing licenses. But Davis rejected that offer, choosing to stay in jail.

On Tuesday morning, attorneys for the four couples who originally sued in the case filed a report that Bunning had requested to update him on their attempts to get marriage licenses. Three of the four couples — two gay, one straight — had successfully received licenses.

Shortly after that notice was filed, Bunning ordered Davis' release. He also ordered her not to interfere with the issuing of marriage licenses from her office.

Davis was released Tuesday afternoon.

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CLERK'S DEFENSE

Davis, an apostolic Christian, says gay marriage is a sin. She stopped issuing all marriage licenses in June the day after the U.S. Supreme Court effectively legalized same-sex marriages nationwide. She says that because marriage licenses are issued under her authority, it would be a sin for her to grant them to same-sex couples.

"God's moral law conflicts with my job duties," Davis told the judge before she was jailed. "You can't be separated from something that's in your heart and in your soul."

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WHAT'S NEXT?

Davis' lawyer refused to say Tuesday whether Davis would obey Bunning's order that she not interfere with marriage licensing in her office upon her return to work.

"Kim Davis cannot and will not violate her conscience," said Mat Staver, with the Christian firm Liberty Counsel. He said Davis is loyal to God and to her job but refused to elaborate.

In an emailed statement late Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Liberty Counsel said Davis would take a couple of days off work to spend with her family and return to the office Friday or Monday. The statement didn't give details on what she would do once there.

But deputy clerk Brian Mason said that if Davis returns and tells him to stop issuing licenses, he'll tell her he can't obey her and instead must follow the judge's order. Mason says the office will issue licenses Wednesday.

Staver contends that the licenses issued in Davis' absence are invalid. But Allison Martin, a spokeswoman for Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, says the office evaluated them and believes they're valid.

Staver says the problem is that the licenses were issued under the authority of Kim Davis' name, whether her name is on them or not.

An attorney representing the couples who initially sued in the case says the judge's order applies to all couples. If Davis opts to turn anyone away, the judge could decide on his own to return her to jail. The attorney says that if Davis blocks her deputies from issuing licenses, he'll ask that she again be held in contempt of court.

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GOVERNOR AND LEGISLATURE

Davis has said she hopes the state General Assembly 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, state lawmakers won't meet until January. Beshear has refused to do so. He reiterated his stance after Davis' release.

Davis has refused to resign her $80,000-a-year job. As an elected official, she can lose her job only if she is defeated in an election or impeached by the state Legislature. The latter is unlikely given the General Assembly's conservative nature.

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NEARBY, IN NORTH CAROLINA

Under a law that took effect June 11, North Carolina employees who issue marriage licenses or can preside over civil ceremonies may refuse to do so by invoking their religious beliefs.

So far, more than 30 magistrates in the state have refused to perform weddings under the law. That represents nearly 5 percent of the state's 670 magistrates. Around a dozen other register of deeds workers who issue licenses also sought recusals shortly after the law took effect.

The chief District Court judge or the county register of deeds — both elected officials — fill in on marriages if needed when employees refuse.

The law exempts court officials with a "sincerely held religious objection" and is designed for those opposing gay marriage, but recusals apply to all marriages. Only Utah has a similar recusal law.

State Sen. Phil Berger, who sponsored the law, said it's probably preventing situations like the one in Kentucky.

Some Democrats have said legal challenges to the law are likely.