ASHLAND — Engaged couples in Rowan County will have to wait a little longer to get marriage licenses.
U.S. District Judge David Bunning will continue a hearing next week over Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis' decision to stop issuing licenses to anyone because of her personal objections to same-sex marriage.
Lawyers in the case estimated it could be decided by mid-August. Davis stopped issuing licenses to same-sex and opposite-sex couples shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision June 26 that legalized same-sex marriage across the United States. The ACLU, representing four sets of couples, has sued Davis in federal court. Davis is being represented by the Liberty Counsel, a national nonprofit litigation firm that specializes in religious-freedom cases.
Davis did not appear in court Monday because she had not received her summons, her attorney said.
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"The Supreme Court has not overruled the First Amendment," Roger Gannam, one of Davis' lawyers, said after the hearing, "and every citizen's right of conscience, right to free expression of religion, is intact."
Davis' lawyers argued that because Davis has religious objections to same-sex marriage, she should not be obliged to issue licenses.
Instead, couples could go to another county or to the county judge-executive, who may issue licenses in the "absence" of the county clerk.
Several people testified Monday that they did ask Rowan County Judge-Executive Walter "Doc" Blevins to issue them a license after Davis declined, but he told them he couldn't because Davis was in her office.
Plaintiff April Miller, who tried to get a license with her longtime partner, Karen Roberts, said she had not gone to another county for a license because she lives, works and pays taxes in Rowan County.
"I think it would be degrading to have to go somewhere else to get my license because of this," she told Bunning.
Jody Fernandez also testified that she was turned down for a license to marry her fiancé, Kevin Holloway, and they are an opposite-sex couple.
"I was quite upset," Fernandez said of the denial. When one of Davis' attorneys asked her why she had not gone to another county, she said: "We live within walking distance to the courthouse. There seemed to be no reason for us to drive to another county to get married."
ACLU lawyer Bill Sharp said the case was simple.
"What we have here is Mrs. Davis' personal interest," he told the court. "Mrs. Davis does not get to dictate the manner in which they (the plaintiffs) get to exercise their fundamental right."
Davis' lawyers suggested there could be a legislative remedy, in which deputy clerks issue licenses or they are issued online. But Gov. Steve Beshear has said he won't call a special session. Last week, he told Casey County Clerk Casey Davis to do his job or resign.
Public interest in the matter is intense: Two groups of people, those supporting Davis and those who don't, gathered outside the federal courthouse before the hearing, and they filled the courtroom's seats.
Bunning appeared skeptical at times that Davis' case represented a compelling public interest, but he seemed more interested in the First Amendment argument, which, he said, had been predicted in the dissents in the Supreme Court case.
The case is "one constitutional claim pitted against another constitutional claim," Bunning said. But he made it very clear to the many viewers in the courtroom that whatever decision he makes would not challenge the Supreme Court.
"Only the Supreme Court can overrule the Supreme Court," he said.
Bunning said he probably would combine the case with a new one filed and assigned to him Friday. Morehead residents David Ermold and David Moore also were denied a license by Davis shortly after the Supreme Court decision. Moore posted a video on YouTube of the denial at the county clerk's office, and the footage went viral.