Faced with what she called an “impossible choice” to abide by either a federal court order or her conscience, Kentucky clerk Kim Davis said Monday that she would not give her authority to issue marriage licenses in Rowan County. But, she added, if her deputies felt compelled to act outside of her authority and issue the licenses, she would not stand in the way.
The statement, delivered as the embattled clerk returned to work less than a week after being released from jail, indicated that Davis would not again shut down the marriage licensing functions of her office altogether – as she had done in June, when the U.S. Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land. Because same-sex nuptials conflicted with her Christian faith, Davis refused to issue marriage licenses to any couple – gay or straight – following the justices actions.
“To affix my name or authoritative title on a certificate that authorizes marriage that conflicts with God’s definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman violates my deeply held religious convictions and conscience,” Davis told a crowd of reporters and protesters gathered outside the Rowan County Clerk’s office on Monday. “For me, this would be an act of disobedience to my God.”
Rather than allow marriage licenses be granted with her name and title on the certificate – as required by Kentucky law – Davis said any license issued by her office would instead state: “Issued pursuant to a federal court order.”
It’s the second time that the licenses have been altered by her office. Since a federal judge found Davis in contempt of court and ordered her to jail two weeks ago, her deputies decided to resume issuing marriage licenses to all eligible couples in her absence. But they also made the decision to remove Davis’ name from the actual forms. So instead of saying, “Issued … in the office of [Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis],” the marriage licenses issued since Sept. 4 read: “Issued … in the office of Rowan County.”
Davis said Monday she had “grave doubts” about whether the licenses issued without her name, title, or authority would be valid, though Kentucky’s Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway – who is running for governor – said via his communications director that he believed the altered marriage licenses were still legitimate.
U.S. District Judge David Bunning, who sent Davis to jail (and then released her) for defying his order that she issue the licenses, raised similar concerns in court two weeks ago. But he said his main goal was to secure compliance with his order, not to determine whether marriage licenses issued in Rowan County without the clerk’s authority would be valid.
Davis has asked both the courts and Gov. Steve Beshear – a Democrat who will not run for reelection – to amend the state’s marriage licenses so that they are not issued under the clerk’s authority. But, she said Monday, “My simple request for an accommodation has gone unheard.”
Beshear, for his part, maintains that he does not have the authority to unilaterally change Kentucky’s marriage licenses. Such an accommodation, he said, would require the approval of the legislature, which does not convene until next year. Beshear has also said that he will not call a special session to address the matter.
Among several appeals that Davis has filed in federal court, one challenges Beshear’s refusal to find a “reasonable accommodation” for her religious beliefs – something her attorneys argue is required under Kentucky’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a law that stipulates that the state cannot infringe on a person’s sincerely held religious beliefs without first demonstrating a compelling government interest, and proving that the offending action in question achieves that interest through the least restrictive means possible.
Harry Mihet, chief litigation counsel for the group representing Davis, said Monday afternoon that his team was preparing to file another lawsuit against Beshear – this time, in state court – due to “his unwillingness to provide Kim Davis with a reasonable accommodation.”
“Gov. Beshear has been very eager to pass this hot potato to someone else,” Mihet told reporters outside the Rowan County Clerk’s office. “There’s a lot of talk here about Kim Davis doing her job. Gov. Beshear needs to do his job.”
Davis’ case has become a flashpoint of the conflict between religious freedom and marriage equality advocates, one that has infiltrated the 2016 presidential election. Two Republican hopefuls – former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz – were on hand when Davis was released from the Carter County Detention Center last week, following Judge Bunning’s determination that couples were able to receive marriage licenses in line with his order. But other GOP candidates – such as Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and real estate mogul Donald Trump – have said they believed Davis had an obligation under the law to issue marriage licenses.
When Davis emerged from jail last week, she was greeted like a champion among hoards of her supporters. Huckabee and Davis’ attorney, Mat Staver, even raised both of her arms up in the air to the tune of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” à la Rocky Balboa. But Davis said Monday she was “no hero.”
“I don’t want to be in the spotlight,” she said. “I’m just a person who’s been transformed by the grace of God, who wants to work and be with my family.”
As for Davis’ deputies, they’re continuing to issue marriage licenses without her authority. Shortly after Davis read her prepared statement outside the clerk’s office Monday morning, casting doubt on all marriages licensed by her office, a same-sex couple walked in and got one – valid or not.