Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk denying licenses to gay couples, has been married four times
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis (YouTube)

When a gay couple went to the Rowan County courthouse on Tuesday to obtain a marriage license, clerk Kim Davis turned them away – despite the fact she herself has tied the knot four times.

Records obtained by the Guardian show Davis has been divorced three times before she “surrendered” her life to religion, which she said happened four years ago.

Related: Defiant Kentucky clerk summoned to federal court over gay marriage refusal

Davis, who was elected clerk last fall, denied licenses to several couples on Tuesday, even though a US supreme court order issued on Monday mandated that she comply with a lower court decision to issue marriage licenses.

“I never imaged a day like this would come, where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage,” Davis said, in a statement.

“To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience.”

In Moreland, her arguments fell on deaf ears with David Ermold and David Moore, a couple of 17 years who live in Moreland. The pair first went to Davis’ office in late June, after the supreme court handed down its landmark decision that legalized same-sex marriage.

Ermold, 41, told the Guardian he sent Davis’ office a letter immediately after the court’s ruling was handed down, “letting them know we were going to come down for a license”.

“We just wanted to get a license and have it done,” Ermold said. “Unfortunately, that’s not the way it turned out.”

The couple has since been turned away from Davis’ office three more times, which Ermold said was a “frustrating” experience in light of the high court’s decision.

Moore, whose verbal altercation with Davis on Tuesday was captured on video and shared widely on social media, said the incident put him, a “very introverted person”, in a precarious position.

“I don’t get angry … in front of lots of people hardly ever,” he said. “But I’m beyond the point just being polite now. I’m not happy.”

It emerged on Tuesday that Davis, who has cited “God’s authority” in refusing to issue licences for same-sex marriage, has herself been married four times. Additionally, her actions appear to contradict statements she made upon entering office last November.

According to a website on the Apostolic Christian religion, which Davis follows, “divorce is rare”.

“I am not perfect,” Davis said in her statement. “No one is. But I am forgiven and I love my Lord and must be obedient to Him and the Word of God.”

In 1984, Davis married store clerk Dwain Wallace, records show. More than a decade later, divorced, she married Joe Davis, her current husband. The couple’s relationship apparently fizzled out sometime around 2007, when Davis married Thomas McIntyre Jr, a construction worker.

When she rejoined Joe Davis, 49, on 24 August 2009, it was her fourth marriage.

The 49-year-old mother of four worked at the clerk’s office for 27 years, before winning her seat last November in a tight race, by only 465 votes .

Her quest to adhere to a strict interpretation of the Bible, and avoid issuing same-sex marriage licenses – culminating in the decision this week to buck an order from the US supreme court – is perhaps unsurprising, given how her religious convictions run deep.

In her statement Tuesday, Davis said her choice to not issue same-sex marriage licenses was not “a light issue for me. It’s a Heaven or Hell decision”.

Her past, nonetheless, raises questions. For instance, Davis gave birth to twins after divorcing Wallace, according to the US News & World Report . McIntyre was the father, the report said, but Davis adopted them.

Davis only alluded to her past on Tuesday, saying: “I am not perfect. No one is.”

The decision stunned residents who spoke with the Guardian, saying Davis did not allude to her strong religious ties while running for office. Though Davis said on Tuesday her relationship with God precluded her duty as clerk to issue marriage licenses, after winning election in November shetold the Moorehead News: “[I] will be the very best working clerk that I can be and will be a good steward of their tax dollars and follow the statutes of this office to the letter.”

‘Government is a little different’

A town of about 6,800, Morehead is situated along a roadway, about 65 miles from the city of Lexington. Residents said Davis’ decision to disregard an order from the supreme court had created an unusual high-profile story in a typically quiet town.

For Ermold and Moore, the developments still came as a surprise. The people in Moreland were “fairly nice”, said Moore. “We’re just finding out the government is a little different.”

The decision by their clerk to reject their request for a license burned the couple deeply, particularly as Moore and Ermold supported Davis’ election bid last November.

“If we had known [how she’d respond to their license requiest] we wouldn’t have voted for her,” said Ermold. “She ran on a Democratic ticket, but clearly she’s not a Democrat.”

Last month, a federal judge ordered Davis to abide by the court’s June decision; Kentucky governor Steven Beshear also ordered county clerks across the state to fall in line with the ruling.

But last week, Davis refused to issue licenses. On Friday night she filed a request with the supreme court to stay the lower court’s decision. The supreme court denied her request on Monday night. Davis’ claim rests on her belief that issuing licenses to gay couples would infringe on her freedom of conscious.

In response to Tuesday’s maneuver by Davis, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky filed a contempt motion with US district judge David Bunning. The request asks the court to impose financial penalties – not incarceration. Davis and her staff were ordered by Bunning to appear on Thursday at 11am to explain why she should not be jailed for contempt.

Additionally, Davis risks a potential charge of official misconduct, a misdemeanor that could bring up to a year in jail. A spokesperson for Kentucky attorney general Jack Conway, a Democrat, said the Rowan County attorney was recently approached by a couple who were denied a marriage license.

“They informed the county attorney that they believe Ms Davis was violating state statute by refusing to issue licenses,” said Allison Martin, communications director for Conway.

The attorney said he had a conflict of interest because “he was representing the county in lawsuits regarding this issue”, Martin said, and asked Conway to appoint a special prosecutor to review the allegations. The request is being reviewed.

By late Tuesday, the scene outside the clerk’s office along Main Street had quieted with most of Moreland. Earlier, supporters and critics had spilled across either side of the building’s entrance, hurling words back and forth on a warm September day.

The Christian nonprofit group representing Davis, Liberty Counsel, posted on Facebook a statement decrying the plaintiffs who filed suit against Davis as “militant homosexuals who … will be on her front step FORCING her to choose between obeying Scripture or going to jail”.

While a strong contingent turned out in support of Davis, a crowdfunding campaign the clerk apparently launched this week drew little support: as of early Wednesday, it has raised $0 . © Guardian News and Media 2015