Kentucky Clerk Who Refuses To Issue Gay Marriage Licenses Begs Supreme Court For Help

After defying multiple orders to issue marriage licenses to gays and lesbians, a Kentucky clerk is taking her case to the Supreme Court.

Rowan County clerk Kim Davis on Friday filed an emergency request with the court to put a temporary hold on a lower-court ruling that effectively forces her to begin serving gay couples, saying that complying with the order would violate her religious beliefs. 

According to Davis’ petition, her “conscience forbids her from approving” marriage licenses to gay couples “because the prescribed form mandates that she authorize the proposed union and issue a license bearing her own name and imprimatur.”

“She holds an undisputed sincerely-held religious belief that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, only,” the petition continues. “Thus, in her belief, [same-sex marriage] is not, in fact, marriage.”

Equality Case Files, a nonprofit that tracks litigation around same-sex marriage, posted a copy of Davis’ filing on its website. The filing can be read in full here.

Davis’ request was addressed to Justice Elena Kagan, who oversees emergency petitions from Kentucky. Justices from time to time are asked to review such petitions, which are only procedural in scope and are meant to delay implementation of lower-court rulings. Kagan could either act on Davis’ petition on her own or refer it to the full court for adjudication.

The Supreme Court ruled in June that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. Following the landmark ruling, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear — who was one of the defendants in that case — ordered state clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay and heterosexual couples alike. 

But Davis refused. And then refused again after she was sued and was ordered by a federal court to comply. On Wednesday, an appellate court told her that she had “little or no likelihood” of winning her case.

In her Friday petition to Kagan, Davis argues that adding her “name, authorization, and approval” to marriages by gay couples would amount to a “searing act of validation” that “would forever echo in her conscience.”

The petition goes on: “If Davis’ religious objection cannot be accommodated when Kentucky marriage licenses are available in more than 130 marriage licensing locations … then elected officials have no real religious freedom when they take public office.”

That’s the crux of Davis’ legal argument, but any Supreme Court action in response would be much narrower in scope. Rather than opining on whether Davis’ religious freedom is being violated, a ruling from Kagan or from the full court would be limited to deciding whether to halt the original court order requiring Davis to issue marriage licenses to all couples. 

According to BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner, that court order is set to go into effect on Monday. 

David Ermold and his partner have been turned away by Davis’ office twice. Ermold told The Associated Press that all the back-and-forth is “getting tedious.”

“We get torn down, built back up, torn down, built back up,” he said. “It’s emotionally draining.” 

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