What Will Happen To Kim Davis, The Kentucky Clerk Unjustly Refusing To Issue Marriage Licenses To Same Sex Couples?
On Tuesday, a Kentucky County Clerk once again refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, on the grounds that her religious rights were being violated. This despite a court order forcing her to comply with the law. Rowan County's Kim Davis, who has been refusing to issue licenses since the June 26 Supreme Court ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges (which made same-sex marriage legal nationwide), had previously petitioned the courts to allow her to continue denying LGBTQ couples their right to marry. But both a U.S. district judge earlier this month and SCOTUS Justice Elena Kagan on Monday denied Davis' emergency application. So what's going to happen to Kim Davis now?
The ACLU seems to already be on top of things, filing a motion in federal court on Tuesday to hold Davis in contempt of court. "[She] violated a definite and specific order," wrote the group in a statement. "[The Court has] no choice but to hold her in contempt."
However, rather than jail time, the ACLU has requested that Davis be given an appropriate financial penalty instead. They also asked that the original injunction from U.S. District Judge David Bunning, which compelled Davis to begin issuing licenses, "state unambiguously" that the law applies to all county clerks; not just Davis. In a statement to Bustle on Tuesday, ACLU staff attorney Ria Tabacco Mar added:
The purpose of asking the court to hold Davis in contempt is to force her to follow the law and do her job. We hope and expect that fines will be sufficient to do that. No one wants Kim Davis to go to jail. Our clients simply want to get married in the county where they live and pay taxes.
The group added that it was Davis' duty as a government employee to follow through with her legal obligations to citizens in her county. "It is unfortunate that we’ve been compelled to take further action today to ensure that the people of Rowan County can obtain the marriage licenses they’re entitled to receive from their County Clerk’s office," added Steven Shapiro, the ACLU's legal director, in a statement. "The law is clear and the courts have spoken, [and] the duty of public officials is to enforce the law, not place themselves above it."
On Tuesday morning, Rowan County couple David Moore and David Ermold, who had previously been turned down by Davis and her staff, made their way to the courthouse to seek a marriage license once more, only to be met by a deputy clerk who again explained that Davis had refused to issue them any paperwork. After Davis appeared and began arguing with the couple, who had been trailed by a crowd of journalists, both Moore and Ermold challenged her dismissal, asking "on whose authority" she was acting. "On God's authority," Davis insisted. She then told the crowd that they needed to leave or she would call the police, but the couple and the media members argued that they were there legally.
When the police did finally show up, Sheriff Matt Sparks told Moore and Ermold that the County Clerk's office had asked the officers to place the couple and all those lobbying for licenses under arrest instead. "There’s actually people ... [who] want us to arrest everybody here for disorderly conduct," Sparks told the couple.
The law in this case is on the couple's side. The Kentucky legislative handbook states that any county clerk who fails to comply with their preset duties will ultimately be subject to discipline by the courts system:
County [officials] are subject to indictment or prosecution for misfeasance, malfeasance, or willful neglect of duty during their terms in office. ... Officials can be disqualified from holding public office or lose their office as a result of their conduct. ... Any county clerk knowingly [in violation of the current marriage laws] shall be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor [...] and removed from office by the judgment of the court.
On Tuesday afternoon, a federal judge forced both Davis and her staff, who were largely complicit in the license refusals, to appear in court, where they could face either jail time or the recommended financial penalties as filed by the ACLU. Still, Davis said that she would not comply with the law. In a statement through her lawyers (attorneys who represent the conservative Liberty Group), Davis said,
To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God's definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision. I was elected by the people to serve as the County Clerk. I intend to continue to serve the people of Rowan County, but I cannot violate my conscience.