LOUISVILLE — A Rowan County, Ky., clerk has continued to defy a Supreme Court ruling that she issue marriage licenses to gay couples. On Tuesday, Kim Davis said she was acting under “God’s authority” when she refused to issue the licenses.
Lawyers for the couples have asked a federal judge to hold her in contempt of court.
The Supreme Court refused Monday to allow Davis’ office to deny the licenses because of her religious beliefs. However, on Tuesday, she turned away at least four couples.
Here are some answers to key questions surrounding the case.
Question: Why hasn’t Kim Davis been fired for refusing to issue marriage licenses and defying court orders?
Answer: She is an elected official and can only be removed from office for impeachment.
Q: How would she be impeached?
A: The Kentucky House of Representatives would have to charge her with an impeachable offense and the Senate would then try her.
Q: Is that likely?
A: The Kentucky Equality Federation, a gay rights group, has called for Gov. Steve Beshear to call a special session of the General Assembly to pursue impeachment. But Beshear, citing costs, has already declined to convene a special session to consider emergency legislation that would accommodate Davis and other clerks by having state government issue marriage licenses. Also, Bluegrass Polls show most Kentucky voters oppose gay marriage and support accommodating Davis. Beshear declined to comment Tuesday.
Still Kentucky Equality Federation’s secretary-general, Minister Jordan Palmer says Davis violated the oath of office and also called for her resignation “if she cannot complete her job because of religious beliefs”. Minister Palmer later called the situation similar to a clerk refusing to issue driver’s licenses to taxpayers of a certain gender because they don’t believe they are religiously permitted to drive.
Q: Can Davis be charged with a crime?
A: After being denied a license four times, a gay couple has asked the Rowan County attorney to charge her with official misconduct, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. But citing a conflict of interest — he is defending the county in suits naming Davis — he referred the request to the attorney general’s office, which is deciding whether to appoint a special prosecutor.
Q: What happens next?
A: The two gay and straight couples who sued Davis have asked U.S. District Judge David Bunning to find her in contempt of court. A hearing is set for Thursday morning in Ashland, Ky.
Q: What punishment could she get for that?
A: Bunning could jail or fine her, but the plaintiffs are seeking only monetary penalties, apparently to avoid engendering sympathy for her in jail. Bunning could order her to pay the fines out of her own pocket, rather than with taxpaper money.
Q: Does Davis have any options left?
A: She can still pursue her appeal in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, but her bids to delay compliance ran out Monday night when the Supreme Court denied her a stay.
Q: Could local officials try to remove her?
A: Kentucky law allows a commonwealth’s attorney to indict county judges-executives, justices of the peace, sheriffs, coroners, surveyors, jailers, county attorneys and constables for malfeasance in office or willful neglect in the discharge of official duties, for which they can be fined up to $1,000 and removed from office upon conviction. But for some reason lost to history, the statute doesn’t include county clerks.
Q: What are Davis’ grounds for refusing to comply with court orders?
A: She says that to issue a marriage license to same-sex couples, on which her name would be signed, conflicts with God’s definition of marriage and would violate her conscience. She says her religious liberty should be protected under the Kentucky and U.S. Constitutions and the Kentucky Religious Freedom Act.
Sources: Kentucky Constitution and Kentucky Revised Statutes. Louisville lawyer Sheryl Snyder and University of Kentucky law professors Allison Connelly and Scott Bauries.
Original story contributors: Andrew Wolfson, The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal, and Mike Wynn, The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal.