Clerk Blocking Same-Sex Marriage Says It's An Issue Of "Heaven Or Hell"

Photo: Timothy D. Easley/AP Photo.
The most notorious objector to the Supreme Court’s marriage-equality decision is still refusing to issue marriage licenses in one Kentucky county — and not even the nation’s highest court has been able to make her.

Kim Davis, the Rowan County clerk, turned away two same-sex couples who wanted a marriage license early this morning. On Tuesday afternoon, she issued a statement, in which she laid out her objections: "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."

Despite that, Davis seems like she intends to stay put. "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. "

The couples she refused are now asking a federal judge to hold Davis in contempt of court, which means she could now face fines or jail time for refusing to perform her duties. According to WKYT in Kentucky, clerk’s office employees turned away one couple just after 8 a.m., but when David Ermold and David Moore applied for a marriage license — they’ve tried to get one four times — things got heated.

“Under whose authority are you not issuing licenses?” Ermold and Moore asked.

“Under God’s authority,” Davis said.

“I pay your salary. We pay your salary,” the couple can be heard saying on video from WKYT. “I’m paying you to discriminate against me.”

Davis is out of legal options, so she has no choice but to comply or face consequences. On Monday night, Justice Elena Kagan referred Davis’ case to the full Supreme Court, and it let stand a lower court’s ruling that Davis could not legally refuse to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The Supreme Court expanded marriage equality to all 50 states on June 26, and although several states and counties initially resisted, almost everyone has since accepted the decision. But Davis, who oversees the clerk’s office in this rural county of some 23,500 people, has made herself the face of resistance.

Kentucky has passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that many civil-rights advocates worry could make it easier to discriminate against minorities or same-sex couples, but that religious-rights argument hasn’t worked this time. It might not be as simple as firing Davis, as she is an elected official, but it would be reasonable to remove her from office.

John Corvino, a professor at Wayne State University, wrote in an op-ed in the Detroit Free Press, “She has chosen a job that requires her to grant licenses in accordance with civil law. She is no longer willing to do that. She should not expect to keep her job, any more than a military commander would keep his job if he became a pacifist, or a surgeon would keep her job if she became a Christian Scientist and refused to perform surgery.

“Religious liberty,” Corvino continued, “does not entitle the bearer to line-item vetoes for essential job functions.”

The American Civil Liberties Union also filed motions on Tuesday to hold Davis in contempt and to force her to issue marriage licenses to all same-sex couples — and not just the four that were a part of the case that the Supreme Court turned down.

“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,” Steven R. Shapiro, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “The law is clear and the courts have spoken. The duty of public officials is to enforce the law, not place themselves above it.”

This story was updated to include Davis' statement on September 1, 2015 at 3:20 pm.

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