Kentucky clerk still refuses to issue same-sex marriage licenses

Is Kim Davis trying to become a "martyr" to the anti-gay cause?

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published September 1, 2015 6:46PM (EDT)

  (AP/Timothy D. Easley)
(AP/Timothy D. Easley)

You've got to admire Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis for sticking so steadfastly to her religious ideals. Oh, wait a minute, no you don't. Instead, let's point out this woman is wasting time and taxpayer money of the American people in her continuing quest to not uphold the Constitution.

Davis has been very unhappy since marriage equality became official across the US back in June. Last month, she filed suit against her state governor Governor Steve Beshear, claiming the state had deprived her of "her religious-conscience rights guaranteed by the United States and Kentucky constitutions and laws, by insisting that Davis issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples contrary to her conscience, based on her sincerely held religious beliefs.” She also rather boldly demanded the governor pay out any damages that may result from the current lawsuits against her, insisting that issuing licenses to same-sex couples would force her to "act in contradiction to the moral law of God." A federal court disagreed with her last week, saying, "It cannot be defensibly argued that the holder of the Rowan County clerk’s office, apart from who personally occupies that office, may decline to act in conformity with the United States Constitution as interpreted by a dispositive holding of the United States Supreme Court."

But Davis then took her case higher, with her lawyers claiming that "This is a matter of first impression, with far-reaching implications across the country for religious liberty," and arguing that if she were to facilitate in same sex marriages, "This searing act of validation would forever echo in her conscience." On Monday, the Supreme Court — you know, the big one, the one that ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges — also refused to uphold her demand to refuse serve to select applicants. Or, as it rather succinctly put it: "Denied." But that's not stopping our plucky, four times-married Ms. Davis, oh noooooo.

On Tuesday, Davis was still not doing what is pretty much the very definition of her job. The AP reports that in the morning, "A deputy clerk told April Miller and Karen Roberts, who walked into the office trailed by dozens of television cameras, that no licenses would be issued and refused to make Davis available." Davis also turned down for the fourth time David Moore and David Ermold in their request for a license. The couple have been together for 17 years. Ermold told reporters Tuesday, "I feel like I've been humiliated on such a national level." Davis also refused James Yates and Will Smith Jr., who were there for the fifth time. Davis told applicants Tuesday simply that she's acting on "God's authority." Casey Davis, a fellow clerk at Davis' office, meanwhile, told CNN that couples can go to other counties if their local one has an objection to their union. Well, that seems fair. You can come asking for what you are legally entitled to, but if the clerk doesn't feel like it, you can drive around the state until you find somebody else to help you out.

The Davis case is a tough one to resolve satisfactorily. As an elected official, Davis can potentially be removed from office, but as the New York Times reports, "That would be time-consuming and politically difficult in a conservative state. The state Legislature, where each party controls one chamber, could impeach her, but that is considered unlikely." And as Slate's Mark Joseph Stern speculates, "It seems increasingly plausible that Liberty Counsel, the far-right fringe group representing Davis, is pushing her toward martyrdom to further their own anti-gay cause." As the case escalates, the ACLU of Kentucky has now filed a motion to hold her in contempt of court. In a statement, the ACLU noted that the couples "were again denied by a deputy clerk who asserted that no marriage licenses would be issued" and had thereby "violated a definite and specific order." The ACLU claims it does not want Davis jailed, but requests she receive "sufficiently serious" financial penalties for her behavior. A judge says she has "has until close of business Wednesday to respond."

Davis is entitled to her religious beliefs. She is free to oppose marriage equality, and to believe that same-sex marriages are not true and valid. She is also free to decide she cannot in good conscience issue licenses to gay couples. Then she's got to step down from her post so someone who understands what it means to take an oath to uphold the Constitution can step in. In a statement Tuesday, Davis said she will not resign, and that she has "surrendered my life to Jesus Christ." But she seems to forget that unlike her, the US government has not surrendered to Jesus Christ. If you work as a public servant, you have to serve everybody, not just people who have your religious views. And if you can't, you have to do something else.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Kentucky Kim Davis Marriage Equality Supreme Court