Ky. governor issues order: Clerks will not have to sign same-sex marriage licenses

by Gregory Tomlin |

(Matt Bevin/Facebook)Matt Bevin is sworn in as governor of Kentucky on December 8, 2015. Bevin promised to provide relief for county clerks who felt as if they were forced to choose between their faith and jail when deciding whether or not to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples after the U.S. Supreme Court created a right to gay marriage in June. Bevin issued an executive order on December 22, instructing state authorities to draft a new marriage license form without a place for a county clerk's signature.

FRANKFURT, Ky. (Christian Examiner) – Two weeks after being sworn into office, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has issued an executive order directing the state's libraries and archive department to craft a new uniform marriage license that does not have a place for the signature of a county clerk.

In doing so, Bevin fulfilled a campaign promise made in the wake of the controversy surrounding Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who refused to issue marriage licenses with her signature after the U.S. Supreme Court created a right to same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges in June. Davis, who objected on religious grounds, was found in contempt of court and sentenced to six days in jail for refusing a federal judge's order to issue the licenses.

Davis sought a religious accommodation, but the judge said her oath of office superseded her religious beliefs in the case and she would have to issue the licenses. Rowan County began issuing some licenses after Davis' jail sentence, but the licenses no longer bore her signature. They included the county seal and a statement that they were issued pursuant to a federal court order.

Bevin said he issued the executive order on the licenses to "ensure that the sincerely held religious beliefs of all Kentuckians are honored."

This executive order is a clear, simple accommodation on behalf of Kim Davis and all Kentucky clerks. Kim can celebrate Christmas with her family knowing she does not have to choose between her public office and her deeply-held religious conviction.
- Matt Staver, Liberty Counsel

Matt Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, represented Davis in her effort to obtain an accommodation for her religious beliefs. He said in a statement following the governor's announcement that the executive order was "a wonderful Christmas gift to Kim Davis.

"This executive order is a clear, simple accommodation on behalf of Kim Davis and all Kentucky clerks. Kim can celebrate Christmas with her family knowing she does not have to choose between her public office and her deeply-held religious convictions. What former Gov. Beshear could have done but refused to do, Gov. Bevin did with this executive order. We are pleased that Gov. Bevin kept his campaign promise to accommodate the religious rights of Kim Davis. We will notify the courts of the executive order and this order proves our point that a reasonable accommodation should have been done to avoid Kim having to spend time in jail," Staver said.

The statement also said support for Davis morphed into support for the conservative Bevin in the election for governor. Staver added that Kentuckians favor traditional values and are tired of "political elites" imposing their will on people who want to live according to their faith.

The American Civil Liberties Union, however, rejected the principle behind the executive order and questioned its legality. William Sharp, who serves as legal director of the ACLU's Kentucky arm, said the executive action "added a cloud of uncertainty that hangs over marriage licensing in Kentucky."

"The requirement that the county clerk's name appear on marriage licenses is prescribed by Kentucky law and is not subject to unilateral change by the governor — conceded by the previous administration in court filings. Today, however, a new administration claims to have that authority," Sharp said.

"The ACLU continues to work with loving couples who hold marriage licenses of questionable validity and for those who are waiting to legalize their unions until this is resolved. And the ACLU will continue to challenge government officials who disregard the law in favor of promoting their own personal beliefs to the detriment of the rights of others. Government officials, from the highest to the lowest, have a duty and responsibility to impartially administer the laws that exist, not the laws as they wish them to be."

Ironically, Bevin has an ally in the Democrat Speaker of the House Rep. Greg Stumbo. The speaker told the Courier-Journal that he agrees with Bevin and was an early proponent of changing the marriage licenses.

"It's a simple fix, and I applaud the governor for finding a way to balance the law and the concerns that county clerks, like mine in Floyd County, had," Stumbo told the newspaper.