The sight of Kentucky country clerk Kim Davis emerging from the Graves County Detention Center in September after being held for five days for refusing to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples to the triumphant strains of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” may be one of the most memorable moments of the year, and she hopes it served as inspiration for like-minded conservative Christians.
Davis became a polarizing national figure this fall when she began to blatantly defy the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26 ruling that same-sex marriage was the law of the land. Citing “God’s authority,” she turned away gay couples in Rowan County, earning high profile fans like GOP presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Sen. Ted Cruz. In an exclusive interview with Associated Press conducted on Tuesday, Davis spoke out about the impact her controversial stand against marriage equality had both in her home state and around the country.
“No one would ever have remembered a county clerk that just said … ‘Even though I don’t agree with it, it’s OK. I’ll do it,’” Davis told the AP. “If I could be remembered for one thing, it’s that I was not afraid to not compromise myself.”
In the wake of Davis’ actions, Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin issued an executive order removing the names of county clerks from marriage licenses, in an apparent nod to Davis. Although Bevin allied himself closely with Davis during his campaign, and had appeared at the rally celebrating her release from jail, she would not take credit for his victory in November over Democratic challenger Jack Conway.
“I think he truly won on his own merit,” Davis said. “I wouldn’t take anything away from him.”
She also acknowledged the irony, which many of her critics have highlighted, that despite being married three times herself, she passed judgment on other relationships. “How ironic that God would use a person like me, who failed so miserably at marriage in the world, to defend it now,” Davis said. “The Lord picks the unlikely source to convey the message.” Davis has previously referred to herself as a “soldier for Christ” and claimed “the battle has just begun,” in emails to supporters.
Her actions made her a topic of debate among 2016 presidential contenders, with some Republicans applauding her resistance to the Supreme Court’s decision, and others saying she should be following the rule of law as a public official. She even enjoyed an audience with Pope Francis during his historic visit to the U.S., although spokespeople for the pontiff made it clear the meeting with in no way an endorsement of her behavior.
And yet, the fate of her position is not resolved. The American Civil Liberties Union, who is in the midst of suing Davis, has been pressuring U.S. District Judge David Bunning, who put the clerk behind bars for contempt of court, to force her hand, but he has not intervened. She has refused to resign and since her release from jail, her office has issued altered marriage licenses that do not include Davis’ name or the county’s.
In September, Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that decided the marriage equality question, wrote an open letter via the ACLU, calling out Davis.
“You’re imposing the same indignities on couples in Rowan County, [Kentucky,] that John and I suffered when Ohio would not legally recognize us as a married couple,” wrote Obergefell, referring to his late husband, John Arthur. “Thankfully, the law is now changed so that nobody should ever have to experience the injustice that John and I endured.”
“No one is above the law, Kim,” he added, “not even you.”