Just when you thought Kim Davis was a part of the past, the newly elected Kentucky governor brought her right back to the limelight. On Tuesday, Gov. Matt Bevin issued an executive order to change Kentucky's marriage licenses so that they don't require the name of a county clerk. The change represents a campaign promise that helped get Bevin elected and, at the same time, a hasty, potentially unsustainable solution to the problem that Davis ran into earlier this year.
Bevin's executive order directed the State Department for Libraries and Archives to "issue a revised marriage license form" to clerk offices throughout the state. "The name of the County Clerk is no longer required to appear on the form," according to the statement from Bevin's office. The resolution was the first of five executive orders to be announced on Tuesday, and it has quickly become the most talked about.
Davis, the Kentucky clerk who became a household name earlier this year when she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of her religious beliefs, seemed pleased with Bevin's resolution. A lawyer representing Davis said Tuesday that she is "very happy." Despite delivering conservative Kentuckians a compromise, though, the solution implemented by Bevin is far from perfect.
First of all, the change made on Tuesday was simply an executive order — it didn't change any existing laws. This is problematic because Kentucky law clearly states that the signature of the county clerk or deputy clerk issuing a marriage license must appear on the form. Will the executive order trump the state's written law? It's unclear, but the governor certainly thinks it will. Additionally, Bevin's announcement did not specifically reference a signature, but it's hard to believe that a name would be removed without a signature being removed. Either way, the executive order — both in its text and in its ability to be enforced — seems too vague to solve the problem once and for all.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which represented the couples who sued Davis over their inability to receive a marriage license, voiced a version of these concerns shortly after Tuesday's announcement. "The requirement that the county clerk's name appear on marriage licenses is prescribed by Kentucky law and is not subject to unilateral change by the governor," William Sharp, legal director for the ACLU of Kentucky, said in a statement. If the executive action is, in fact, unable to overtake the existing law, then it seems like Bevin's announcement is little more than a temporary fix for a deep-rooted problem.
Beyond the executive order's ability to affect change in Kentucky, it seems entirely unsuitable for the country as a whole, as well. Will all states that currently require a county clerk to sign marriage licenses have to get new forms? If executive action is not enough, will they all have to change their laws accordingly? That could take years. The Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage this summer probably should have been enough to affect change.
Ultimately, the governor of Kentucky found a quick and potentially ineffective way to fulfill a promise he made to his supporters on the campaign trail. Bevin supported Davis back in September, and he wasted no time supporting her in office. Bevin became governor on Dec. 8, meaning Tuesday was just his 15th day in office. Perhaps he should have tried to change the law and clarify the language in his announcement before hastily trying to solve a problem.