Supreme Court Says Kentucky Clerk Must Let Gay Couples Marry


· Aug. 31, 2015

New York Times

Kim Davis, an elected clerk, at work in Rowan County, Ky.

Kim Davis, an elected clerk, at work in Rowan County, Ky.

, the Supreme Court  . The new case from Kentucky, Davis v. Miller, was the court’s first opportunity to consider whether government officials may refuse to comply with the Obergefell decision on religious grounds.

The case concerns Kim Davis, an elected clerk in rural Rowan County, Ky. After the state’s governor told county clerks to issue marriage licenses to all eligible couples, a federal court rejected Ms. Davis’s argument that she should be excused from the obligation given her religious beliefs.

Ms. Davis’s lawyers filed an emergency application on Friday with Justice Elena Kagan, the member of the Supreme Court who supervises cases arising from the judicial circuit that includes Kentucky. She referred the matter to the full court.

“This is a matter of first impression,” Ms. Davis’s application said, “with far-reaching implications across the country for religious liberty.”

Ms. Davis told the Supreme Court that her Apostolic Christian faith forbade her to affix her name to a document endorsing the view that the marriages of gay men and lesbians were authentic. “This searing act of validation would forever echo in her conscience,” her lawyers told the court.

Ms. Davis should not have to choose between her sincerely held religious beliefs and her livelihood, her lawyers said, particularly when same-sex couples can obtain licenses in other counties. “More than 10 other clerks’ offices are within a one-hour drive of the Rowan County office,” Ms. Davis’s lawyers wrote.

In August, Judge David L. Bunning of Federal District Court in Ashland, Ky., temporarily barred Ms. Davis from “applying her ‘no marriage licenses’ policy to future marriage license requests” submitted by four couples, two same-sex and two opposite-sex, who had sued Ms. Davis.

Judge Bunning issued a stay that was set to expire on Monday. On Wednesday, a unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit refused to extend the stay for an appeal.

“It cannot be defensibly argued that the holder of the Rowan County clerk’s office, apart from who personally occupies that office, may decline to act in conformity with the United States Constitution as interpreted by a dispositive holding of the United States Supreme Court,” the panel said. “There is thus little or no likelihood that the clerk in her official capacity will prevail on appeal.”

The Human Rights Campaign praised the Supreme Court’s decision. “Ms. Davis has the fundamental right to believe what she likes,” said JoDee Winterhof, the group’s senior vice president for policy and political affairs. “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.”