Religious conservatives, including Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, have been calling for civil disobedience to challenge a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that effectively legalized same-sex marriage.
Their calls lacked specifics ahead of the ruling – which most observers expected to favor the plaintiffs seeking marriage equality – but it appears county clerks will be the first to mount a legal challenge to the high court’s decision.
Several county clerks in Kentucky have decided to stop issuing marriage licenses altogether, citing religious objections to the ruling – although they have been directed by the state’s Democratic governor and attorney general to follow the law or face potential Class A misdemeanor charges for official misconduct.
"It's hard, I will tell you that," said Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who admits she has not yet been asked to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple. "What has happened is that five lawyers have imposed their personal view of what the definition of marriage should be on the rest of us, and I, as a Christian, have strong views, too -- and I know I don't stand alone."
Clerks in other Kentucky counties are seeking legal advice on how to proceed without violating their own personal views on same-sex marriage.
"I have suspended all marriage licenses until I can get legal counsel," said Montgomery County Clerk Chris Cockrell. "Nobody had even read the whole court ruling yet — it was, like, 109 pages — when the governor was sending us a letter saying, 'Go, go, go!' Well, a lot of us still have questions."
Scattered news reports show county clerks in other states have the same concerns.
It’s not clear whether their opposition is part of an organized legal strategy, but one prominent religious conservative legal advocate is prepared to take up some of their cases.
The conservative Liberty Counsel stands ready to defend the Hood County, Texas, clerk who says she will not issue marriage licenses to any couples to avoid violating her Bible-based belief that marriage should be limited to heterosexual couples.
"If somebody has a religious objection to performing a duty and somebody else can perform that duty, and everything gets done, that's what the law requires," said attorney Kelly Shackleford, of Liberty Counsel.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has urged county clerks to refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses if doing so offends their religious beliefs under the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The Cleburne County, Arkansas, clerk will resign Tuesday over her objection to the Obergefell v. Holmes ruling, reported Arkansas Online after a GOP lawmaker tweeted an oblique announcement about it.
“And it begins,” tweeted state Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Bigelow). “I have just been advised one Arkansas County Clerk will resign before issuing licenses to same-sex couples. #resist”
The Minnehaha County, South Dakota, clerk expressed her frustration with the court ruling by threatening to marry her dog, according to a witness, although she has not indicated she would disobey any laws related to marriage licenses.
One county clerk in Texas, however, said she would issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples even if doing so violated her religious views.
"Same-sex marriage is in contradiction to my faith and belief that marriage is between one man and one woman," said Denton County Clerk Juli Luke. "However, first and foremost, I took an oath on my family Bible to uphold the law as an elected public official. My personal belief cannot prevent me from issuing the licenses as required."
Watch this video report posted online by KXAS-TV: