ASHLAND, Ky. — A defiant county clerk was sent to jail for contempt Thursday after insisting that her “conscience will not allow” her to follow a federal judge’s orders to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
“God’s moral law conflicts with my job duties,” Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis told U.S. District Judge David Bunning. “You can’t be separated from something that’s in your heart and in your soul.”
The judge said she left him with no alternative but to jail her, since fines alone would not change her mind. A deputy escorted her out of the courtroom, although not in handcuffs, to be turned over to the custody of federal marshals.
“Her good faith belief is simply not a viable defense,” Bunning said, noting that allowing an individual’s beliefs to supersede the court’s authority would set a dangerous precedent.
“I myself have genuinely held religious beliefs,” the judge said, but “I took an oath.”
“Mrs. Davis took an oath,” he added. “Oaths mean things.”
Hundreds of people chanted and screamed, “Love won! Love won!” as word reached the dueling crowds outside.
The judge also told all five of the clerk’s deputies, including her son, Nathan Davis, that they are free to issue licenses to all applicants while Davis is held in contempt, but would also face fines or jail if they refuse to comply. He told them to meet with lawyers briefly and consider their fates before returning to his courtroom later Thursday to reveal their decisions.
A lawyer for Davis, whose defense is funded by the Liberty Counsel, a religious freedom group, argued that the deputy clerks cannot issue licenses against Davis’ authority, but the judge overruled this objection.
Before she was led away, Davis told the judge that she can’t comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing gay marriage nationwide, because it conflicts with the vows she made when she became a born-again Christian.
“I promised to love Him with all my heart, mind and soul because I wanted to make heaven my home,” Davis said during about 20 minutes of emotional testimony. She described how she became a Christian and said she is unable to believe anything else.
April Miller, who was denied a license four times at the clerk’s office, also testified. She said she voted for Kim Davis last year and that she has no desire to change the clerk’s personal beliefs.
Outside, demonstrators shouted at each other, sang hymns and waved signs, which ranged from the violent — turn to Jesus or burn — to simple statements of support. A small plane flew over the courthouse, carrying a banner that said: “Stand Firm Kim.”
Davis stopped issuing licenses to all couples in June after the Supreme Court ruling. She’s lost at every federal court level since then, but continues to turn couples away.
“I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will,” said Davis, an Apostolic Christian, in a statement this week. “To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God’s word.”
Her critics mock this moral stand, noting that Davis is on her fourth marriage.
Davis served as her mother’s deputy in the clerk’s office for 27 years before she was elected as a Democrat to succeed her mother in November. As an elected official, she can be removed only if the Legislature impeaches her, which is unlikely in a deeply conservative state.
Judge Bunning is the son of Jim Bunning, the Hall of Fame pitcher for the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies who served two terms as Kentucky’s junior U.S. Senator. Former Republican President George W. Bush nominated David Bunning for a lifetime position as a federal judge in 2001 when he was just 35 years old, halfway through his dad’s first term in the Senate.
But Bunning has been anything but a sure thing for conservative causes, ruling in 2007 to overturn a partial-birth abortion ban, and in 2003 to allow a Gay-Straight Alliance to meet on their high school campus.