Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis made international headlines this week for her continued refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite a US supreme court order mandating otherwise.
But she’s not the only defecting clerk in Kentucky. Two other clerks, Casey Davis of Casey County and Kay Schwartz of Whitley County, are also still refusing to perform same-sex marriages.
Davis began a 440-mile trip across the state on bicycle last Thursday, with the intention of riding from Pikeville, located in eastern Kentucky, to the city of Paducah.
“I’m actually [biking] across the state to show support to [Kim Davis] and to raise awareness of what’s going on with this woman,” Casey Davis, who has no relation to Kim Davis, told the Guardian in a phone interview.
As a hearing Thursday approaches to consider whether Kim Davis should be held in contempt of court, Casey Davis dismissed the prospect of possible jail time for the clerk, saying “she’s not done anything wrong; she’s upheld her oath.”
“She’s standing for God like she think she should and I think she should,” Casey, 43, told the Guardian. “I don’t think a person should be threatened to be fined or threatened to go to jail because they’re Christian.”
The vocal persistence of the clerks on Tuesday attracted the attention of Kentucky governor Steve Beshear, who again declined to call a special session to address the conflict – a prickly issue for supporters of Davis who spoke with the Guardian.
“Regardless of whatever their personal feelings might be, 117 of our 120 county clerks are following the law and carrying out their duty to issue marriage licenses regardless of gender,” Beshear, a Democrat, said in a statement.
He added: “The General Assembly will convene in four months and can make any statutory changes it deems necessary at that time. I see no need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money calling a special session … when 117 of 120 clerks are doing their jobs.”
Casey said he doesn’t see the need to wait for the legislative change, which he called a “simple idea”. The proposed bill would allow clerks to not play a role in officiating a marriage; it would only require they keep the records on hold. And he said a bipartisan coalition of legislators is ready to back him up.
At Davis’ office Wednesday, a familiar scene played out: her supporters coalesced on one side of the entrance, occasionally praying and singing as someone held a tall American flag. Across the entrance, her vocal, noticeably younger, critics held signs that said: “You are being used by a hate group, Liberty Counsel”, a jab at the clerk’s attorneys from the Christian non-profit.
Any of these county clerks could have become Kim Davis. It just so happened Kim Davis became Kim Davis.
Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign
It was a noticeable divide that reflects Kentucky’s sharp split on gay marriage: Ever since the state’s marriage ban was struck down this summer, a July poll showed 50% of registered voters oppose same-sex marriage, with 37% in support – however, the opposition has slowly whittled away throughout the year.
Around 10.30 am Wednesday, a couple of 20 years from Ohio joined hands and walked into the courthouse to obtain a marriage license.
The pair woke up early Wednesday morning and gathered their birth certificates, social security cards and passports before making the roughly three-hour commute. After a 25-minute altercation, Davis turned them away.
“I saw something that was reminiscent of a KKK rally,” said Robbie Blankenship, 45, who has been together with Jesse Cruz, 42, for 20 years.
Davis and the two other hold-out clerks haven’t issued marriage licenses since the supreme court’s 26 June decision to legalize same-sex marriage. Schwartz, who didn’t return requests for comment by the Guardian, said her opponents have transformed into bullies ever since.
“There’s a law against bullying and that’s what this has turned into,” she told The State Journal of Frankfort, Kentucky. “I’ve had a couple calls and when I’ve looked those people up, they didn’t even live in my county.”
In July, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky and the Louisville-based Fairness Campaign, a civil rights group, “cast a net” in counties across the state that denied licenses, said Chris Hartman, director of the campaign. “But the only counties where plaintiffs responded to the request were in Rowan County,” Hartman told the Guardian.
“Any of these county clerks could have become Kim Davis,” he said. “It just so happened Kim Davis became Kim Davis.”
Casey offered a similar explanation: “Well, Kim’s been sued; Kay nor I have been.”
Their supporters echoed the clerk’s call for change outside Davis’ office Wednesday.
“The way to settle it is to not have the county clerk sign the form,” said Don Bair, a Davis supporter who turned out in support of the embattled clerk.
David Hamm, also a Morehead resident, chimed in: “All I got to say is it’s the governor’s fault.”
The saga of Davis – a longtime bureaucrat and native of Morehead, attracted increasing attention last month, when a federal judge ordered her to abide by the supreme court’s June decision. Governor Beshear has also ordered county clerks across the state to fall in line with the ruling.
Tension heightened last week after Davis continued to refuse licenses to couples; on Friday, she filed a request to the supreme court to stay the lower court’s decision. Late Monday, the high court denied her request in a one-sentence ruling. A hearing is scheduled Thursday at 11am in US district judge David Bunning’s courtroom on a contempt motion in one of several cases involving Davis, which asks the court to impose a financial penalty – not incarceration. Davis and her staff were ordered by Bunning to appear in court to explain why the clerk wouldn’t be jailed for contempt.
But attorneys for Davis filed an emergency motion Wednesday afternoon, in what appears to be a last-ditch effort to obtain the right to reject same-sex marriage licenses. Bunning last month declined to hear the motion.
The request for an injunction asks Bunning to block Beshear’s order. It’s unclear what, if any, impact it could have on the contempt hearing; attorneys for Davis didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Davis could face a charge of official misconduct, a misdemeanor that could bring up to a year in jail. A request for a special prosecutor to review the allegations is pending before Kentucky attorney general Jack Conway, a Democrat. Conway’s office declined additional comment Tuesday.
Republican presidential candidates also jumped into the fray Wednesday. Rand Paul appeared to side with Bevin, the Republican nominee for the Kentucky gubernatorial race, and said in a radio interview that Davis’ protest is “part of the American way”.
“There never should have been any limitations on people of the same sex having contracts, but I do object to the state putting its imprimatur to the specialness of marriage on something that’s different from what most people have defined as marriage for most of history,” Paul told Boston Herald radio.
“So one way is just getting the state out completely and I think that’s what we’re headed towards, actually.”
Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and TV personality, said he spoke with Davis Wednesday and praised her actions.
“She is showing more courage and humility than just about any federal office holder in Washington,” Huckabee said in a statement to the Associated Press.
By not calling a special session, several of Davis’ supporters said those are characteristics governor Beshear clearly doesn’t embody.
“If the governor would simply do his job, then [same-sex couples] could go to Rowan county and they could get their license,” said clerk Casey. “And [Davis] wouldn’t have to be violated while she was getting them.”
But Blankenship, who fought back tears moments after being turned away by Davis’ office Wednesday, said he wants Kentucky – a state he has a long history with and where several family members live – to simply accept everyone.
“I want Kentucky to recognize our love,” he said. “Whoever is refusing our love needs to stop.”
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