In a one-sentence order issued Monday, the United States Supreme Court ruled against Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, who had sought relief from the high court to protect her from having to issue marriage licenses in Rowan County.
Davis, as of Tuesday afternoon, has refused to comply with the order, citing “God’s authority.”
The scene at the Rowan County courthouse this morning was tense, with media from across the state in attendance. Protesters gathered, chanting “Hey Hey! Ho Ho! Kim Davis has got to go!” Groups supporting Davis prayed outside the courthouse and told couples that they should go to another county to get a license, per Dan Griffin, a reporter for WSAZ-TV.
A deputy told two couples—David Ermold and David Moore, and plaintiffs April Miller and Karen Roberts—that no licenses would be issued today while Davis remained in her office with the blinds drawn, according to the New York Times. Davis later came out of her office to inform the couples that she would not be issuing any licenses and asked them to leave. David Moore and his partner David Ermold refused to leave the clerk’s office without a license, and told Davis to call the police if she wanted them to leave.
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“Well, you’re going to have a long day,” Davis responded.
Davis, an apostolic Christian who opposes same-sex marriage as a matter of faith, said that the Rowan County Clerk’s Office would no longer issue marriage licenses to any couples within hours of the Supreme Court’s June 27 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. By refusing to issue marriage licenses, Davis believed she could avoid accusations that she was discriminating against same-sex couples.
That day, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear told county clerks that Kentucky would recognize all same-sex marriages as valid. His directive required Davis to begin issuing marriage licenses. Beshear further stated that county clerks opposed to the same-sex marriage ruling could either fulfill their duties as prescribed by law or resign and let someone else step in and fulfill those duties.
Davis continued to refuse to issue licenses or to step down from her position, claiming that she has worked at the Rowan County clerk’s office for nearly 30 years and that she swore an oath to support the constitutions and laws of the United States and Kentucky, which she understood to mean that she would not act in contradiction to the moral law of God.
She claimed that at the time she swore the oath, Kentucky’s marriage law aligned with her religious beliefs about marriage.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Davis in federal court on behalf of a group of plaintiffs—two same-sex and two opposite-sex couples—arguing that Davis’ “no marriage licenses” policy interfered with the plaintiffs’ right to marry because it prevents them from obtaining a license in their home county. Davis, in turn, filed a lawsuit against Beshear, a Democrat, arguing that she should be relieved from her obligation to issue marriage licenses due to her religious beliefs.
Both the district court and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against her, and blocked Davis from implementing her “no marriage licenses” policy.
Davis argued in a lower court that because plaintiffs could drive 30 minutes to an hour and obtain marriage licenses in any one of the seven neighboring counties that are issuing marriage licenses, her “no marriage licenses” posed only an incidental burden on plaintiffs’ right to marry.
Davis claimed that this incidental burden is justified by the need to protect her religious liberty.
The district court disagreed, pointing out that plaintiffs, who live, vote, and pay taxes in Rowan County, understandably would prefer to obtain marriage licenses in their own county. The court further pointed out that driving 30 minutes to an hour might pose a hardship for people living in rural Kentucky who do not have the means to travel.
The district court questioned why Rowan County residents should be required to obtain marriage licenses in neighboring counties. “The state has long entrusted county clerks with the task of issuing marriage licenses. It does not seem unreasonable for Plaintiffs, as Rowan County voters, to expect their elected official to perform her statutorily assigned duties. And yet, that is precisely what Davis is refusing to do.”
The district court rejected Davis’ free speech and Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) claims.
The court disagreed that issuing marriage licenses constitutes speech. The marriage licensing form simply asks the clerk to certify that the information provided on the form is accurate and that the couple seeking the marriage license is qualified to marry under Kentucky law. The court found this to be a purely legal inquiry that has no bearing on Davis’ religious convictions and does not compel her to express a message to which she objects as a matter of faith, contrary to the First Amendment.
The district court found that this purely legal inquiry did not substantially burden Davis’ religious freedom under Kentucky’s RFRA law. Davis was simply being required to do her job and certify that couples meet the legal requirements to marry.
Affixing her signature to the marriage license did not mean she was condoning or endorsing same-sex marriage. The court said she was free to continue to disagree that same-sex marriage is marriage.
After the district court blocked Davis from implementing her “no marriage licenses” policy, Davis asked the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to relieve her from having to issue marriage licenses until that court had the opportunity to issue a ruling on her constitutional claims. In a three-page opinion, the Sixth Circuit bluntly denied Davis’ request:
In light of the binding holding of Obergefell, 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.
Davis next petitioned the Supreme Court for relief, which the Court denied.
Davis is now required by law to begin issuing marriage licenses. Yet as of this morning, Davis has thus far refused, claiming that she has made the decision “under God’s authority.” Davis says that she is waiting for the Sixth Circuit to issue a final ruling on her appeal, according to WSAZ-TV.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs filed a motion in federal court asking the district court judge to hold Davis in contempt of court and to impose financial penalties “sufficiently serious and increasingly onerous to compel Davis’s immediate compliance without further delay.”
A hearing on that issue is set for Thursday.