'On God's authority,' Kentucky clerk refuses to issue marriage licenses after Supreme Court rejects her appeal

by Gregory Tomlin, |
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis leaves a court hearing where she was ordered to issue marriage licenses to homosexual couples. Davis appealed the decision to the Sixth U.S. Circuit, claiming her religious beliefs prevented her from endorsing same-sex marriage, but the court ruled as did the lower court. The Supreme Court announced Aug. 31 that it would not entertain Davis's appeal. | WKTY/Screengrab

WASHINGTON (Christian Examiner) – A Kentucky county clerk this morning defied an order to issue marriage licenses even after the Supreme Court Monday declined to hear her appeal on the basis she cannot issue marriage licenses to gay couples because of her religious views.

Turning away two couples -- two mean and two woman -- Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis told the Associated Press she made the decision "on God's authority."

There is absolutely no reason that this case has gone so far without reasonable people respecting and accommodating Kim Davis's First Amendment rights.

The Supreme Court issued a one line order late Monday evening, saying it would not consider the appeal, after the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges in June that same-sex couples were entitled to marriage the same as were heterosexual couples.

Davis's lawyers, who were asking the Supreme Court to block a lower court ruling that said she must issue the marriage licenses, said she "holds an undisputed, sincerely held religious belief that marriage is a union between a man and a woman only."

In the request for a stay, lawyers with Liberty Counsel claimed both the U.S. Constitution and the Kentucky Constitution guarantee Davis protection from substantial burdens placed on the free exercise of her religion by the government.

Her lawyers also claimed the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act protected Davis from having to issue the licenses, in spite of an order from Gov. Steve Beshear to do so following the high court's ruling in June.

Liberty Counsel's Mat Staver said in a statement the lower court should have allowed for the accommodation of Davis's religion through various means, including removing her name from the licenses, having another official issue them, or developing a statewide, online marriage license process.

"There is absolutely no reason that this case has gone so far without reasonable people respecting and accommodating Kim Davis's First Amendment rights," Staver concluded.

Controversy began this summer when Davis, who is a Christian, decided that refusing to issue all marriage licenses would protect her from violating her conscience and prevent discrimination. But she was later sued by two homosexual couples and two heterosexual couples. A lower court then ruled Davis had to issue the licenses and she appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Sixth Circuit rejected the appeal and claimed "it cannot be defensibly argued that the holder of the Rowan freedom to marry."

JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president for policy and political affairs with HRC, said, "A public official's personal religious opinion does not give her the privilege to trample over the rights of others. Freedom of religion is important, and Ms. Davis has the fundamental right to believe what she likes. But as a public servant, she does not have the right to pick and choose which laws she will follow or which services she will provide. We are pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court has denied the stay."

As of Monday evening, the Rowan County Clerk's website contained no information on how to obtain a marriage license.

The high court's refusal to hear the appeal, the first of its kind where private religious beliefs conflict with public service obligations related to same-sex marriage, was praised by pro-gay groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Human Rights Campaign.

ACLU Legal Director Steven Shapiro said in a statement that the Supreme Court "resoundingly affirmed that government officials must carry out the duties of public office. By refusing to simply issue a form, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis has prevented our clients, four loving couples, from obtaining marriage licenses in the county where they live and pay taxes. Davis has no basis for any further delay in denying couples the freedom to marry."