Defiant Ky. clerk jailed over refusing marriage licenses
ASHLAND, Ky. -- A defiant county clerk remained in jail Thursday, refusing a compromise that would allow her deputies to grant marriage licenses to same sex couples in a controversial rejection of a federal judge's orders.
"God's moral law conflicts with my job duties," Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis told U.S. District Judge David Bunning. "You can't be separated from something that's in your heart and in your soul."
The judge said she left him with no alternative but to jail her, since fines alone would not change her mind. A federal marshal escorted her, without handcuffs, out of the courtroom.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs had proposed releasing Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis out of custody if she agreed to not interfere with marriage licenses for gay couples.
The judge agreed to the proposal and returned Kim Davis back to the courtroom Thursday afternoon to see if she would agree to let the deputies issue the licenses, but she still refused.
The judge had told all six of the clerk's deputies, including her son, Nathan Davis, that they are free to issue licenses to all applicants while Davis is held in contempt, but would also face fines or jail if they refuse to comply. After meeting with their lawyers, five of the six deputies agreed to issue the licenses. Nathan Davis was the lone holdout.
"Her good faith belief is simply not a viable defense," Bunning said, noting that allowing an individual's beliefs to supersede the court's authority would set a dangerous precedent.
"I myself have genuinely held religious beliefs," the judge said, but "I took an oath."
"Mrs. Davis took an oath," he added. "Oaths mean things."
Hundreds of people chanted and screamed, "Love won! Love won!" as word reached the dueling crowds outside.
Davis is being represented by the Liberty Counsel, an organization that advocates in court for religious freedoms. Her lawyer argued that the deputy clerks cannot issue licenses against Davis' authority, but the judge overruled this objection.
Before she was led away, Davis explained that the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in June that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide conflicts with the vows she made when she became a born-again Christian.
"I promised to love him with all my heart, mind and soul because I wanted to make heaven my home," Davis said during about 20 minutes of emotional testimony. She described how she became a Christian and said she is unable to believe anything else.
April Miller and Karen Roberts, will apply for a marriage license in Rowan County for the fourth time on Friday. Miller testified that she voted for Kim Davis last year and has no desire to change the clerk's personal beliefs. She simply wants to be treated equally in the community where she lives, she said.
One of Davis' deputies told her to apply in a different county, but "that's kind of like saying we don't want gays or lesbians here. We don't think you are valuable," Miller testified.
"We're saddened that Ms. Davis has been incarcerated, but we look forward to tomorrow," Miller said after leaving the courtroom. "As a couple, it will be a very important day in our lives."
Davis' lawyer, Roger Gannam, compared her willingness to accept imprisonment to what Martin Luther King Jr. did to advance civil rights, and said "everyone should lament and mourn the fact that her freedom has been taken away for what she believes."
Laura Landenwich, an attorney for the plaintiffs, rejected the comparison.
"Ms. Davis is in an unfortunate situation of her own creation. She is not a martyr. No one created a martyr today," Landenwich said. "She is not above the law."
Davis, an Apostolic Christian whose critics mock her for being on her fourth marriage, stopped issuing licenses to all couples after the Supreme Court ruling.
"I'm not discriminating because I'm not issuing licenses to anybody," Davis said Wednesday to Robbie Blankenship and his partner of 20 years, Jesse Cruz, who drove down from Ohio to get a marriage license.
The courts have consistently ruled against her since the high court's ruling. But many supporters have rallied around her, including Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who called her personally the day before.
"People are calling the office all the time asking to send money," she testified. "I myself have not solicited any money."
Davis said she hopes the Legislature 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, they won't meet until next year. "Hopefully our legislature will get something taken care of," Davis told the judge.
Until then, the judge said, he has no alternative but to keep her behind bars as long as she refuses to follow the law.
"The legislative and executive branches do have the ability to make changes," Bunning said. "It's not this court's job to make changes. I don't write law."
Davis served as her mother's deputy in the clerk's office for 27 years before she was elected as a Democrat to succeed her mother in November. As an elected official, she can be removed only if the Legislature impeaches her, which is unlikely in a deeply conservative state.
Bunning is the son of Jim Bunning, the Hall of Fame pitcher for the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies who served two terms as Kentucky's junior U.S. senator. Former Republican President George W. Bush nominated David Bunning for a lifetime position as a federal judge in 2001 when he was just 35 years old, halfway through his dad's first term in the Senate.
But Bunning has been anything but a sure thing for conservative causes, ruling in 2007 to overturn a partial-birth abortion ban, and in 2003 to allow a Gay-Straight Alliance to meet on their high school campus.
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