FRANKFORT, Ky. (Christian Examiner) – A Senate committee in Kentucky's legislature voted Feb. 11 to move forward a bill that would create an alternative marriage license for the state, offering protections to clerks – like Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis – who are normally charged with signing the document, but who refuse when they object on religious grounds to same-sex marriage.
Under the proposed legislation (Senate Bill 5), the state's Department of Libraries and Archives will be required to develop a license that contains blank spaces for any official with authority to sign the license and place their title below. In that case, it would likely be the person recording the license.
Sen. Steve West [R-Paris] said he pushed the bill because constituents across the state wanted them to protect the consciences of officials who objected to signing same-sex marriage licenses. Under his plan, one form for the traditional marriage would have spaces for the "bride" and "groom." The other license, presumably only for use in same-sex marriages, would read "first party" and "second party."
The bill's passage through the Senate State & Local Government Committee partly fulfills a promise made by Kentucky gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin during the election last year. Bevin said he backed Davis completely and would take whatever steps necessary to protect clerks like her.
One week after taking office, Bevin issued an executive order that the state remove the name of the county clerk from its marriage licenses.
Davis was catapulted into the spotlight in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the high court created the right to same-sex marriage in a 5-4 vote. Davis refused to issue licenses to same-sex couples because, she said, the idea of men marrying other men violated her religious conscience. She was found in contempt of court and sentenced to jail time.
Davis then went back to work in the office and still refused to issue the state's approved license which required her signature. The American Civil Liberties Union later filed a request with a federal court to force Davis to affix her name to the licenses, even though then Gov. Steven L. Beshear, who left office at the end of the year, said the state would honor all marriage licenses in the state.
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On Feb. 9, the same judge who found Davis in contempt for refusing to sign the marriage licenses after the Obergefell ruling rejected the ACLU's petition. Judge David Bunning wrote in his ruling that there has been no indication Davis has continued "to interfere with the issuance of marriage licenses since September 20, 2015." He also wrote that the licenses issued – even without her name – were being honored by the state, "making re-issuance unnecessary."
"There is absolutely no reason that this case went so far without reasonable people respecting and accommodating Kim Davis's First Amendment rights," Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said in a statement. "Today's ruling by Judge Bunning rejected the ACLU's request to hold Kim Davis in contempt of court. From the beginning we have said the ACLU is not interest in marriage licenses. They want Kim Davis's scalp. They want to force her to violate her conscience. I am glad the court rejected this bully tactic."
SB 5 was not without its challengers. Sen. Morgan McGarvey [D-Louisville] called for an amendment that would require the state to issue a single license and allow those completing it to indicate whether they are "bride," "groom" or "spouse."
Others, including gay rights advocates, claim the bill violates the spirit of equality under the law.
West, who represents Rowan County and, therefore, Kim Davis, said Davis is aware the bill was progressing through the legislature. He also said Davis has had some input on the bill.