LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, a longtime Democrat, says she is switching to the Republican Party because she feels abandoned by Democrats in her crusade against same-sex marriage.
Davis made the announcement while in Washington, D.C., to attend the Family Research Council's Value Voters Summit, said Charla Bansley, a spokeswoman for Liberty Counsel, which represents Davis in her legal battles.
"I've always been a Democrat, but the party left me," Davis said, according to Bansley.
She sparked a national furor by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the Supreme Court effectively legalized gay marriage in June. A federal judge ordered Davis to issue the licenses, but she refused, and opted to spend five days in jail rather than license a gay marriage. The ordeal propelled her to folk hero status among some on the religious right.
Davis was elected Rowan County clerk last fall as a Democrat. She replaced her mother, also a Democrat, who served as county clerk for 37 years.
But Republicans, not Democrats, came to her defense.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist preacher running for president but trailing badly in the polls, rushed to Davis' side, visited her in jail and held a religious freedom rally on the jailhouse lawn. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz also traveled to Kentucky to bask in her defiance.
Davis meanwhile lumps blame for her legal problems on Steve Beshear, the state's Democratic governor, who refused to call the state legislature for a special session and allow lawmakers to hammer out a way to exempt religious clerks from issuing the licenses. The governor instead told clerks to either issue the licenses or resign.
So when a Reuters reporter asked her in Washington on Friday about the support she'd received from the GOP, Davis revealed that she decided last week to switch her allegiances to the Republican ticket, her attorney, Mat Staver, wrote in a statement.
"However, the issue of religious freedom in this case is not a partisan issue," he added. "It is neither Republican nor Democrat. It is an inalienable right and what makes America the land of liberty."
Davis declined an interview request from The Associated Press.
Davis was released from jail earlier this month on the condition that she not interfere with her deputies issuing the licenses. But her legal woes persist: On the day she returned to the office, Davis altered the license forms to delete her name and her office, and replaced it with the line "pursuant to federal court order."
The American Civil Liberties Union, which sued her on behalf of the couples she turned away, questioned the validity of the licenses, asked the judge to order her to reissue them or consider punishing her again.
Democrats make up 65 percent of the county's 14,000 registered voters, but Davis' switch is not a huge surprise because many Kentucky Democrats still represent the party of decades ago, which was long dominated by rural whites with conservative values. But the state's Democrats have grown frustrated with the national party's shift on social and environmental issues, embracing gay marriage and abortion rights while acknowledging climate change and supporting new emission standards for coal-fired power plants.
Registered Democrats still outnumber registered Republicans in Kentucky. But since 2008, when Barack Obama was elected president, Republicans have added 183,635 registered voters in Kentucky while Democrats have added 23,957 during the same time period.
While the state's governor and five of its six statewide elected officers are Democrats, all but one of the state's congressional delegation are Republicans and a Democratic presidential candidate has not won the state since Bill Clinton in 1996. The Kentucky state Senate is dominated by Republicans while Democrats are clinging to an eight-seat majority in the House of Representatives.
Davis' registration has not yet been changed in the statewide voter registration system, said Lynn Zellen, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Secretary of State. There is no special process for elected officials to change their affiliation; she would simply file to run as a Republican come the next election, scheduled for 2018.
Davis, who made the rounds this week on television news programs to defend her actions and tout her religious conviction, was invited to the event hosted by the Family Research Council, a conservative lobbying group, along with other "Christians who have been targeted for their religious beliefs on natural marriage."