A county clerk who invoked "God’s authority" as she defied the U.S. Supreme Court yet again on gay marriage Tuesday refused to resign and now must face a federal judge who could impose fines or send her to jail.
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis turned away several gay and lesbian couples who sought marriage licenses — some for a fifth time — even though the Supreme Court denied her last-ditch appeal the night before.
"To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision," she said through her lawyers.
"I was elected by the people to serve as the County Clerk. I intend to continue to serve the people of Rowan County, but I cannot violate my conscience," her statement said.
April Miller and Karen Roberts tried first, trailed by dozens of television cameras. A deputy clerk said no licenses would be issued, and declined to make Davis available.
David Moore and David Ermold, a couple for 17 years, then came in, demanding to speak with Davis.
"Tell her to come out and face the people she’s discriminating against!" Ermold shouted.
"We’re not leaving until we have a license," Ermold responded after she came out and told them to leave.
"Then you’re going to have a long day," the clerk replied.
Davis then retreated behind a closed door, sheltered from questions and rival demonstrations.
"Praise the Lord! … Stand your ground," her supporters shouted, while the other side called Davis a bigot and yelled: "Do your job!" Ordered to move to the courthouse lawn, each side tried to out-do the other with chanting, hymn-singing and sign-waving.
Davis stopped issuing all marriage licenses in June after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage across the nation.
Gay and straight couples sued, saying she should fulfill her duties despite her personal religious faith, or step aside. U.S. District Judge David Bunning agreed and was upheld. Her Liberty Counsel lawyers then asked the Supreme Court for what they called "asylum for her conscience."
After the full court declined to intervene, removing any remaining legal ground for Davis’ position, the couples decided to try again, only to be disappointed. For James Yates and Will Smith Jr., it was their fifth rejection.
"It’s just too hard right now," Yates said, choking back tears and holding hands with Smith as they rushed to their car.
Ermold and Moore cried and swayed as they walked out to chants from the clerk’s supporters. "I feel like I’ve been humiliated on such a national level, I can’t even comprehend it," Ermold said.
Despite the delays, the couples’ lawyers asked the judge to punish her with fines, not jail.
"Since Defendant Davis continues to collect compensation from the Commonwealth for duties she fails to perform," they asked Bunning to "impose financial penalties sufficiently serious and increasingly onerous" to "compel her immediate compliance without delay."
Davis served as her mother’s deputy for 27 years before she was elected as a Democrat to succeed her in November. Davis’ own son is one of the six deputy clerks also summoned to appear before Bunning Thursday at the federal court in Ashland.
Davis has said four deputies share her beliefs, one was ambiguous and one had no problem licensing same-sex marriages.
The clerk’s husband, Joe Davis, came by Tuesday to check on his wife.
He said he’s proud of her commitment to her faith, and compared her to the Biblical figures Paul and Silas, sent to prison and rescued by God.
Davis has received death threats, he added, but he called himself a Second Amendment believer, suggesting that he’s armed and ready. "I’m an old redneck hillbilly, that’s all I’ve got to say. Don’t come knocking on my door."
Outside the courthouse, three dozen people sang Amazing Grace and joined in a prayer circle. "She’s standing for God’s word, and we’re standing with her," Flavis McKinney said, describing his side as "doing battle for Jesus Christ."
Protesters on the other side of the courthouse lawn waved rainbow flags, held signs saying "We the People" and "Hate is not a family value," and repurposed Christian songs.
"Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world," they sang. "Gay or straight or black or white, they are precious in his sight."
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