A clerk’s office turned away gay couples who sought marriage licenses on Thursday, defying a federal judge’s order that said deeply held Christian beliefs don’t excuse officials from following the law.
The fight in Rowan County began soon after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide in June. County Clerk Kim Davis cited her religious beliefs and decided not to issue marriage licenses to any couple, gay or straight. Five couples sued in federal court, and legal experts likened the case to the resistance some local officials in the South put up five decades ago after the Supreme Court legalized interracial marriage.
“I will say that people are cruel, they are cruel, these people are cruel,” said a tearful David Ermold, who was denied a license to marry his partner of 17 years. “This is how gay people are treated in this country. This is what it’s like. This is how it feels.”
The clerk’s office rejected the couples’ bid for licenses just hours after U.S. District Judge David L. Bunning ordered Davis to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Davis wasn’t at her office Thursday, but deputy clerk Nathan Davis said the office was advised by its attorneys with the Christian law firm Liberty Counsel to continue refusing same-sex couples as it appeals.
“Kim Davis is just an example of what’s going to be happening not only to other clerks but to other people who are going to be confronted with this issue and we think that this is a serious matter that needs to be decided by a higher court, even the Supreme Court,” said Liberty Counsel founder Mathew Staver.
James Yates and William Smith Jr., a couple for nearly a decade, were the second pair turned away Thursday. They also were turned away a month ago.
They described a disconnect between the clerk’s office and their experience in the community of Morehead, a college town they say has long been open and accepting. They held hands as they walked into the clerk’s office, and gay rights activists shouted “Good luck!” from the street, holding signs reading “clerk not clergy” and “obey the law.”
The couple joined the protesters after the office refused to give them a license.
“I still get frustrated sometimes, but then I take a deep breath and go on. I know it’s going to get resolved. It’s just a matter of when,” Yates said.
In Kentucky, county clerks issue marriage licenses, and someone else must “solemnize” the marriage. Then the license can be filed with the county clerk.
Davis argued that issuing a same-sex marriage license that contains her signature is the same as her approving the marriage, which she said violates her Christian beliefs.
Davis, elected last November as a Democrat, took over the office from her mother, Jean Bailey, who served as county clerk for 37 years, according to the Morehead News. Davis worked under her mother as a deputy clerk for 26 years. Deputy clerk Nathan Davis refused to say if he is related to Kim Davis.
Judge Bunning said in his ruling Wednesday that Davis has likely violated the U.S. Constitution’s ban on the government establishing a religion by “openly adopting a policy that promotes her own religious convictions at the expenses of others.”