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Supreme Court Denies Stay, Ordering Ky. Clerk to Issue Marriage Licenses

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on September 01, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Supreme Court has refused to grant an emergency stay to a Kentucky county clerk who refused to wed gay couples. This June, the Supreme Court recognized marriage as a fundamental right that cannot be denied to same-sex couples.

The Court's refusal to grant a stay, issued in a one-sentence order this Monday, meant that Kim Davis, the elected county clerk in rural Rowan County, Kentucky, would be required to issue licenses this Tuesday despite her religious objections. Tuesday has come and, just hours after the Supreme Court's order, Davis continues to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

A Simple Solution: No Marriages for Anyone!

In response to the Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, the governor of Kentucky ordered the state's county clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Davis, citing her Apostolic Christian beliefs, refused. She didn't resign, however. Instead, she stopped issuing any marriage licenses whatsoever.

Four couples, two straight and two gay, sued in federal court. Government officials cannot refuse to carry out the obligations of their office based on personal religious beliefs, they argued. A Catholic judge could not refuse to oversee divorce proceedings. A Muslim official could not refuse to issue liquor licenses. Similarly, Davis could not refuse to grant marriage licenses to qualifying couples.

Davis countered, saying that requiring her to issue same-sex marriage licenses would violate her First Amendment right to the free exercise of her religion. Making her "validate" marriages her religion opposed, Davis asserted, violated her civil rights.

The couples' view has prevailed so far. Davis's arguments were rejected in district court, which stayed its ruling through this past Monday. Both the Sixth Circuit and the Supreme Court refused to grant Davis an emergency extension of that stay, though her case could still make it to the High Court in time.

Jail Time, Fines Ahead for Kim Davis?

Meanwhile, Davis is still refusing to grant marriage licenses and couples, gay and straight, in Rowan County cannot get married. This morning, several such couples gathered at the Rowan County courthouse to get marriage licenses. According to The New York Times, Davis remained in her office with the blinds drawn, emerging only when the couples demanded that she "come out and face the people she's discriminating against." Davis would issue no marriage licenses, she said, as she was acting "under God's authority." She retreated again to her office.

There are several possible responses courts and state authorities could take to Davis's continued refusal. Davis is quite clearly in contempt of the district court's ruling and will likely face steep fines and possible jail time for her refusal to comply. The couples who sued for marriage licenses are already asking the court to impose sanctions and the court has ordered Davis to appear before it. The ACLU has also filed two motions against Kim Davis with a district court. Davis could also be impeached by the state Legislature or charged with official misconduct by the state attorney general, which could also result in her removal from office.

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