After appeal fails, clerk again denies gays a license

An employee in the Rowan County clerk’s office in Morehead, Ky., again turns away William Smith Jr. (right) and James Yates, who were attempting to obtain a marriage license Thursday.

MOREHEAD, Ky. -- A Kentucky clerk's office on Thursday again refused to issue a marriage license to a gay couple, in defiance of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling two months ago that legalized same-sex marriage across the country.

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis has refused to issue any marriage licenses, citing her Christian faith and constitutional right to religious freedom, since the landmark decision in June.

The action Thursday came just a day after a federal appeals court upheld a ruling ordering the clerk in rural Rowan County to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Davis later closed the office for "computer upgrades."

The scene Thursday morning was familiar: William Smith Jr. and James Yates arrived at the clerk's office and asked for a marriage license, insisting that the latest in a string of court orders proved that they were entitled to one.

Davis' office turned them away for the third time.

Some couples, who have grown weary of the ups and downs, have decided to no longer rush to her office the moment a favorable ruling comes down.

"It's getting tedious. We get torn down, built back up, torn down, built back up," said David Ermold who, with his domestic partner, has been rejected twice. They did not return Thursday and decided instead to wait and see what happens over the next several days.

"I just didn't want to go through that again."

U.S. District Judge David Bunning, an appointee of President George W. Bush, had ordered Davis to issue marriage licenses two weeks ago. He later delayed that ruling until the end of the month or until the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling. The appeals court did so on Wednesday, denying Davis' appeal.

But a deputy clerk in Davis' office told Smith and Yates on Thursday that the office believes Bunning's delay remains in effect until Monday. He refused to give his name or give them a license.

Davis, meanwhile, sat in her office with the door closed. Later, she temporarily closed her office for the "computer upgrades," said a note posted on her door. The note indicated the office would reopen in an hour.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued Davis last month on behalf of two gay couples and two heterosexual couples.

Mat Staver, an attorney for Davis, said he was disappointed with the appeals ruling. He said he plans to file an emergency petition with the U.S. Supreme Court this week and ask it to extend the delay of the judges' order until the appeal is completed, a process that could take several months.

"The court of appeals did not provide any religious accommodation rights to individuals, which makes little sense because at the end of the day it's individuals that are carrying out the acts of the office," Staver said. "They don't lose their individual constitutional rights just because they are employed in a public office."

It's unclear how Davis would react if she were to ultimately lose her appeals. She testified in federal court last month she would "deal with that when the time comes." On Saturday, she spoke to thousands of supporters at a religious-freedom rally at the state Capitol, saying: "I need your prayers ... to continue to stand firm in what we believe."

"Regardless of what any man puts on a piece of paper, the law of nature is not going to change," Davis told the crowd.

Davis has said she will not resign. She can be removed from office only if the state Legislature impeaches her. If she continues to defy a federal court order, a judge could hold her in contempt and order hefty fines or jail time.

"Certainly none of those are appealing to my client," Staver said. "No one wants to be fined or go to jail and she's always been a law-abiding citizen. She's just caught in a very difficult situation."

William Sharp, legal director of Kentucky's ACLU, said he believes the case "is simple.

"Religious liberty certainly does not allow public officials to deny government services to the public based on their personal beliefs," Sharp wrote in a statement. "All that Davis is required to do in her official capacity as clerk is issue a form. In no way is she being forced to endorse anyone's marriage or beliefs."

A Section on 08/28/2015