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Former clerk Kim Davis still in the dock

A court holds her liable for damages for standing up for her faith and refusing to sign same-sex marriage licenses

Kim Davis in Morehead, Ky. Associated Press/Photo by John Flavell, file

Former clerk Kim Davis still in the dock

Kim Davis’ Biblical convictions about marriage have cost her: The former Rowan County, Ky., clerk spent time in jail and now faces continuing fallout for her refusal in 2015 to sign the marriage licenses of same-sex couples.

A federal judge in Kentucky on Friday denied motions to dismiss two same-sex couples’ civil lawsuits against Davis. She unsuccessfully argued that she was entitled to a religious accommodation allowing her to opt out of signing the couples’ licenses.

In his 22-page opinion, U.S. District Judge David Bunning, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote that Davis clearly violated the constitutional rights of the two couples as determined by the 2015 Supreme Court ruling Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that legalized same-sex marriage. “If the state may not exclude same-sex couples from marriage under Obergefell, but it requires applicants to receive a license from the county clerk in order to enter into a marriage, refusal of that license by a county clerk violates Obergefell, as a license from the county clerk is the only avenue to legalize a marriage in Kentucky,” he wrote.

Bunning found Davis liable for compensatory and punitive damages, though the amount will be determined at trial. Liberty Counsel attorneys for Davis have vowed to appeal.

In flouting the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Obergefell, Davis became a rallying point for Biblical marriage. She memorably stated she “acted under God’s authority” in declining to issue the licenses. But her path forward proved a tortuous one.

Davis spent five days in jail for contempt of court before a judge released her, allowing deputy clerks to issue the licenses provided she did not interfere. Later that year, then-Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, issued an order removing clerks’ names from marriage licenses, and the state Legislature rewrote Bevin’s order into law.

A federal appeals court ultimately said the changes made the case moot and returned it to the trial court for a ruling on who would pay more than $222,000 in costs.

The Supreme Court declined to hear the case, but Justice Clarence Thomas released a statement noting the justices will eventually need to weigh in on the issues it raised. Writing for himself and Justice Samuel Alito, he said the case was a “stark reminder of the consequences” of the court’s 2015 decision in the same-sex marriage case. “Davis may have been one of the first victims of this court’s cavalier treatment of religion in its Obergefell decision, but she will not be the last,” he wrote.

Davis is certainly not the only victim. Colorado state officials attempted to use an expanded public accommodation law to force Colorado baker Jack Phillips to design a cake for a same-sex wedding. The Supreme Court in 2018 ruled in favor of Phillips after finding that the state demonstrated hostility toward his religious views.

Bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein of Oregon are still fighting a similar case after the state fined and effectively shut down their bakery. In February, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Denver-area website designer Lorie Smith, who is attempting to preserve a religious accommodation for creative professionals who wish not to be forced to create items in support of same-sex marriage.

In a 2016 interview with WKYT-TV, Davis pinpointed some of what the case has meant for her. “It’s probably made me a stronger person,” she said. “When you get to a point where you are outside that realm where you’re comfortable and where you have control, you have to rely on God, and that makes you stronger in your faith.”

Steve West

Steve is a reporter for WORLD. A graduate of World Journalism Institute, he worked for 34 years as a federal prosecutor in Raleigh, N.C., where he resides with his wife.



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