It's nice to think of injustices LGBTQ Americans have faced while seeking marriage licenses as a thing of the past. But those denied a license application might never get over the pain of being rejected when trying to legally recognize their love — especially when the Supreme Court had found it their constitutional right to do so. Now, at least in the case of infamous county clerk Kim Davis, couples can sue for being denied marriage licenses. An appeals court Tuesday said that couples harmed by Davis can move forward with their cases against her.
Reuters reported that the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati overturned an earlier ruling from a district court that found the couples didn't have standing given that they ultimately did get a marriage license. Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore explained that wasn't sufficient:
The district court concluded that because Ermold and Moore were eventually issued a marriage license, the dispute in their case was resolved. We conclude that the district court’s characterization of this case as simply contesting the “no marriage licenses” policy is inaccurate because Ermold and Moore did not seek an injunction — they sought only damages.
In non-legalese, this means that because the couple were suing for "compensatory and punitive damages" — in other words, money — to be awarded for the harm they experienced being denied the license, it could move forward. Just getting the license another way doesn't remedy the prior harm they experienced.
"This action is not a general challenge to Davis’s policy, but rather seeks damages for a particularized harm allegedly suffered by a specific set of plaintiffs," the court explains. Those specific plaintiffs are David Ermold and David Moore. They filmed their visit to the Rowan County clerk's office, where they were denied the license, and uploaded it on YouTube. The harm they suffered went viral and was viewed nearly 1.9 million times.
Now the case will return to the district level and proceed like a normal case. The couple's attorney told Reuters that he thought the finding was a "no-brainer." "Do I think it's a million dollar case? Probably not," Gartland said in an interview with Reuters Tuesday. "The next step will be to go to discovery and go to trial, where I am confident we will obtain a judgment against Davis."
Believe it or not, Davis is still the Rowand County clerk. She never did agree to issue same-sex marriage licenses with her signature, but thanks to a new Kentucky law, clerk signatures are no longer required to appear on the licenses.
Following this ruling, she might be held personally responsible for her mistreatment of LGBTQ Americans.