As Kim Davis, the Christian court clerk in Kentucky who opposes gay marriage, returned to work in Rowan County on Monday following a nearly weeklong stay in jail for refusing a federal court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, conservative leaders were looking to Kentucky and U.S. officials to draft new protection for religious liberties. State and federal authorities should accommodate Davis by ensuring it is not illegal or considered discrimination for officials with deeply held religious beliefs to refuse to validate same-sex unions, evangelical leaders said this week.
A legal compromise in Davis’ case in Kentucky would be heralded as the first victory for conservatives since the U.S. Supreme Court validated same-sex marriage nationwide in June. Proponents of gay marriage said they, too, would welcome new religious-liberty laws as long as gay and lesbian couples' right to marriage were protected.
“We have seen accommodations for people of other faiths,” Paul Chitwood, executive director of the 750,000-member evangelical Kentucky Baptist Convention, said Monday. “This is the first time that [evangelical Christians] have seen religious liberty issue of this magnitude. The Supreme Court decision has placed us here, and now it’s time for the country to deal with it.”
Kentucky’s governor and attorney general said last week it was unlikely that their offices would intervene with a solution protecting religious liberties before state lawmakers resume their legislative session early next year. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear said last week that he would not call a special session of the state General Assembly just to enact religious-liberty legislation. Jack Conway, the Democratic state attorney general, announced last week that he would leave Davis’ case up to the courts. However, state Senate President Robert Stivers told CNN that a legislative solution for Davis’ case was in the works and would likely pass quickly when lawmakers convene in January.
Citing her Apostolic Christian belief that gay marriage is a sin, Davis pledged not to certify marriage licenses to any gay couple after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in June. She then found herself behind bars for five days after refusing to obey a federal court judge’s order to issue licenses to the gay couples who sued her over discrimination. Davis' deputies began issuing marriage licenses in her absence.
But with hundreds of supporters cheering her as she walked out of the Carter County Detention Center in Grayson, Kentucky, last week, Davis said she remained resolved to not violate her beliefs. All licenses issued from her office Monday came with a written disclaimer indicating that they were valid pending Davis’ appeal of the original order to issue licenses, according to media reports.
“I love my Lord Jesus, I love all people, and I love my job,” Davis said in a news conference Monday morning before she retreated to her office. “I want to continue to serve all three as I have tried to do until now."
Davis attorney Mat Staver, the founder the national religious freedom organization Liberty Counsel, said his client’s decision “balances her deeply held religious convictions while respecting the court order.” He added: “Kim should never have to choose between obeying God or leaving her elected position as the clerk of Rowan County.” Davis has repeatedly said she would not resign.
— Toni Konz (@tkonz) September 14, 2015
Her job security wouldn't be under threat if the state took the small step of making marriage license applications as uncontroversial as applications for drivers’ licenses, Paul Vaughn, general counsel for the American Family Association, which opposes same-sex marriage, said. “The most clever idea I’ve heard suggested is to leave blank marriage license applications out on the counter for anyone to obtain,” he said. If all legal requirements are met, it allows a clerk to process the application “without moral judgment” of serving a same-sex couple, Vaughn added.
Activists on both sides of the issue said they would continue to monitor Davis’ case. "We hope Kim Davis will follow the law and obey court orders," Amber Duke, a spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, told NBC News. The ACLU sued Davis’ offices on the behalf of several same-sex couples. "If she doesn't [comply], our attorneys will meet and decide our next action,” Duke said.
Jordan Palmer, secretary general of the Kentucky Equality Federation, a statewide pro-gay-rights group, said his group knew of at least 16 couples that had received licenses since Davis' deputies began issuing them last week. "We’ll just continue to monitor," Palmer said Monday. "I would love nothing more than if she just continues to do her job."