Kentucky, marriage and religious belief

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MOREHEAD, Ky – Kentucky’s Rowan County clerk Kim Davis is in court today and continues to make headlines as she pushes back against state laws. On June 26, Davis, a born-again Christian, stopped issuing marriage licenses just hours after the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of same-sex marriage laws. She has repeatedly said that issuing licenses to same-sex couples violates her “sincerely held” religious beliefs.

[Photo Credit: J. Stephen Conn, Flickr]

[Photo Credit: J. Stephen Conn, Flickr]

Davis’ personal protest has now earned her national attention as she openly defies state marriage laws. On Sept.1, the ACLU of Kentucky filed two motions asking, “the court to hold Davis in contempt of court for failing to comply with its previous ruling and to clarify that Davis must issue marriage licenses to everybody.” Steven R. Shapiro, legal director if the ACLU, said:

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.  The law is clear and the courts have spoken. The duty of public officials is to enforce the law, not place themselves above it.

Davis’ case has factored into the election scene, becoming a prop in political campaigning. In a recent tweet, Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee said, “I stand w/ Kim Davis & Americans of faith under attack by Washington elites who have nothing but disdain for our faith & the Constitution.” Huckabee, who is hoping to become the 2016 presidential candidate for the Republican party, even specifically mentioned the issue in a letter to his supporters.

Priestess Nancie Clark, a Kentucky resident and co-Founder of Spirit of the Earth Church, told The Wild Hunt that the local situation is “very intense.” Clark said, “It’s hard to go anywhere without hearing about [the case] and people are intensely passionate when defending their side of the issue.”

In July, Federal District Court Judge David Bunning ordered Davis to issue the licenses but she refused. In response, she asked both a federal appeals court and the U.S. Supreme Court to remove that order. Both courts denied the request, which puts Davis at risk of being held in contempt, heavily fined and even jailed.

To demonstrate what was happening, Kentucky residents David Moore and David Ermold recorded their attempt to get a marriage license. Over the summer, that video went viral. But, more recently, several members of the local LGBT community directly confronted Davis in her busy clerk’s office. In that video, Davis tells the group, “We are not issuing marriage licenses today.” One of the protesters asks, “Under whose authority are you not issuing marriage licenses?” Davis calmly replies, “Under God’s authority.”

Priestess Clark explained, “Those who support Kim Davis are so strong in their convictions, they truly believe that God is supporting Davis’s decision and that she and others like her must not back down. There are some who truly believe that she is doing God’s work by standing up for her beliefs.The issue of whether are not she needs to do her job as a County Clerk is secondary.”

However, as noted by Columbia law professor Katherine Franke, Davis sincerely held religious beliefs are not “at stake.” In an NPR interview Franke said:

She has absolutely no legal ground to stand on. As a public official, she’s supposed to abide by the law and perform her public duties, which are issuing marriage licenses to qualified couples. Same-sex couples are now qualified to marry in the state of Kentucky, so she is refusing to do her job .. 

Of course. Kim Davis has all sorts of religious liberty rights secured under the First Amendment and under other laws. But they are not at stake in this case. All she’s asked to do with couples that come before her is certify that they’ve met the state requirements for marriage. So her religious opposition to same-sex marriage is absolutely irrelevant in this context.

Davis and her eleven deputies are appearing in a court this morning to determine whether they will be held in contempt. Davis’ lawyers argue that she is unable to obey the law due to her conscience and, therefore, cannot not be held in contempt. Lawyers for the state are arguing that Davis is obliged to follow the law regardless of her religious convictions. Judge Bunning told one reporter that Davis is promoting “her own religious convictions at the expense of others” and that if she cannot abide by the rules then “she should resign.”

Kim Davis

Kim Davis

Many have asked why Davis hasn’t been fired. The answer is simple. She is an elected official. Therefore, she must either resign, be removed by the legislature or be impeached. As Kentucky law states, “All county officials are susceptible to impeachment for any misdemeanors in office (Ky. Const., sec. 68) … Officials can be disqualified from holding public office or lose their office as a result of their conduct. Public servants are subject to disqualification from office if convicted of abuse of public trust under KRS 522.050.”

Davis, a Democrat, was elected in 2014 defeating Republican candidate John Cox. On Nov.7, 2014, she told a local paper, “I am so humbled and feel so blessed that the people put so much confidence in me … I promise to each and every one that I will be the very best working clerk that I can be and will be a good steward of their tax dollars and follow the statutes of this office to the letter.”

In recent days, the Rowan County attorney Cecil Watkins has come forward to state that Davis is acting alone and does not in any way represent the county In an interview, Watkins also told the Kentucky Trial Court Review that the eleven deputy clerks “would issue lawful marriage licenses. They are simply afraid to do so.” According to Watkins, those clerks were afraid of Davis, their boss.

Now, everyone is waiting for the federal courts decision. Large crowds, estimated to be over 1100 people strong, have gathered in front of the Ashland courthouse and several local stations are live streaming. Before this morning’s hearing, Davis told Fox News, “I’ve weighed the cost and I’m prepared to go to jail, I sure am … This has never been a gay or lesbian issue for me. This is about upholding the word of God.”

According to reports, protesters from both sides are out in full force with large groups screaming at each other and homeland security close on hand.

Priestess Clark said, “This has been a passionate issue here on both sides. The implication of Kim Davis’s actions are being felt state wide and only serve to further divide us.” She added, “While I am confident that justice will be served for our LGBT community, what happens after this is incident is over? There is much work that needs to be done here and I feel that this incident is just the beginning.”

Priestess Clark and her group have been offering regular healing prayers for the Kentucky community. She said, “What we need to do and probably the most difficult thing to do right now with this issue being so raw, is to extend the olive branch to foster conversations and promote understanding. That is a long road. Right now the energy here is like a boiling tea kettle, everyone is waiting assured that justice will be served in what they feel is the right direction.”

As of publication, the hearing is still in session. The story can be followed via Twitter and local live streaming.

Update 1:26pm: Kim Davis was held in contempt and taken into custody by federal Marshals.