ACLU Sues Kentucky Clerk Over Marriage Licenses

Last month, the Supreme Court handed down a colossal, far-reaching decision, ruling that same-sex couples have a right to get married, and that their marriages must be recognized throughout all 50 U.S. states. It was June 26, 2015 — the day that countless activists and advocates had longed for. And, despite marriage equality now being the law of the land, there are still some opponents who are holding out against it. Like in the Bluegrass State — the ALCU is suing a Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

As detailed by The Courier-Journal, the story is actually a bit stranger than it seems at first blush. The ACLU — that's the American Civil Liberties Union, for anyone who's unfamiliar — is suing on behalf of four Kentucky couples who were denied marriage licenses by Kim Davis, a clerk in Rowan County, which sits just east of Lexington.

But the couples aren't all same-sex, and that's the odd thing — two of them are same-sex, while two are straight. The reported reason for the denials is that Davis is one of a few clerks who've refused to give out licenses to any couples, to make absolutely sure none of them go to gay or lesbian Kentuckians.

In a statement released by the ACLU of Kentucky on Friday, attorney Laura Landenwich argued that while religious beliefs should be respected, this is an infringement of Davis' duties as a clerk.

Ms. Davis has the absolute right to believe whatever she wants about God, faith, and religion, but as a government official who swore an oath to uphold the law, she cannot pick and choose who she is going to serve, or which duties her office will perform based on her religious beliefs.

The four couples are as follows, according to the release:

  • L. Aaron Skaggs and Barry W. Spartman
  • Shantel Burke and Stephen Napier
  • April Miller and Karen Roberts
  • Jody Fernandez and Kevin Holloway

Davis hasn't made any public comment since news of the lawsuit broke, but on Wednesday, she told local CBS affiliate WKYT that her religious convictions precluded her from cooperating.

It is my deep conviction and belief that God ordained marriage between a man and a woman. I can't be a part of this.

This faith objection angle has been taken by many religious-minded opponents of same-sex marriage, both before and after the Supreme Court's ruling. It's worth noting, however, that marriage is not an explicitly religious act in the United States — quite the contrary, in fact. While individual churches have faith and marital traditions, the broader institution is one of legal contracts. Simply put, you don't need to set foot in a church to get married.

And considering that Davis (as well as other clerks who've followed the same path) is an employee of the government, not of an organized religion, and that even once-opposed Democratic Governor Steve Beshear has issued an executive order for clerks to give out same-sex marriage licenses, this distinction will almost surely come into play.