Kim Davis makes KY lawmakers question ‘whether county clerks are worth the time and money'
Kim Davis

Kim Davis wants Kentucky lawmakers to change the way county clerks issue marriage licenses -- but she might not like how that plays out.

Davis returned to work Monday as Rowan County clerk after spending six days in jail for contempt of court when she refused to follow the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.

After arriving at her office for the first time since her release last week, Davis read from a statement that indicated she would not violate a court order and interfere with her deputies -- but she repeated her call for changes to state laws regarding her duties.

"While there are very many accommodations available, the very simple accommodation I have proposed is to remove my name and my title as the clerk of Rowan County completely off the marriage license," Davis said. "These licenses can be issued under another authority, including perhaps the Commonwealth of Kentucky or Gov. (Steve) Beshear himself."

There doesn't appear to be much objection to granting her accommodations, but one lawmaker said the authorities that take over issuance of marriage licenses would likely claim the $35 filing fee for themselves.

"That's the first thing that will come up, is the money issue," said state Rep. Dennis Keene (D-Wilder). "Be careful what you wish for."

Keene said most of the state's 120 county clerk offices are "always strapped for cash," so cutting that revenue stream could lead to salary reductions, layoffs or other budget adjustments.

"If they choose not to perform those duties, they should not be paid," he said.

Keene said the Kentucky County Clerks Association, which has endorsed the removal of clerks' names from marriage licenses, is a powerful lobbying organization that would no doubt fight any attempts to cut funding to their offices.

"I can guarantee a lot of clerks would be jumping up and down over that," Keene said.

The lawmaker wasn't sure whether the clerks association would react by urging lawmakers to amend their proposals or by pressuring Davis to drop her request for religious accommodation.

Two other Kentucky county clerks have said they would refuse to follow the law on religious grounds, but they have apparently not yet been asked to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couples.

One of those clerks, Casey Davis of Casey County, has asked Beshear or the legislature to authorize the setup of a website that would issue all marriage licenses in the state.

But Keene said that would cost taxpayers money to set up and maintain, and the resulting discussion could open a debate over whether elected clerks were needed in each county.

He compared clerks to jailers, another elected office that has been questioned as essential.

Keene said both positions could likely be absorbed by professionals already employed by the state.

About one-third of the state's jailers serve counties that don't even have a jail, although many of them are paid $40,000 or more per year, and lawmakers have proposed merging their offices with the sheriff's offices -- which the state constitution allows.

That idea has never gained much traction, just like most attempts to merge county government functions -- but Keene said the Davis saga could draw more attention to ways to cut government spending.

"It may be time to look at whether county clerks are worth the time and money," Keene said.