A federal appeals court has reinstated a claim for damages against Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis for refusing to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples during the summer of 2015.
Last August, U.S. District Judge David Bunning dismissed three lawsuits that were filed against Davis by same-sex couples who asked her for marriage licenses after the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage. Davis said she refused to grant the licenses because of her religious objection to same-sex marriage.
Those cases were “moot,” or settled, Bunning said, because Gov. Matt Bevin and the General Assembly resolved the matter by changing state law in 2016 to remove county clerks’ names from marriage licenses, as Davis had requested. Same-sex and opposite-sex couples once again could obtain marriage licenses in Rowan County.
However, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the state of Kentucky changing marriage licenses in 2016 does not eliminate whatever harm Davis might have done to couples’ constitutional right to marry in 2015.
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The appeals judges ruled in favor of one couple that appealed Bunning’s decision, David Ermold and David Moore of Rowan County. The men are entitled to have their damages claim heard, the judges said.
“The district court concluded that because Ermold and Moore were eventually issued a marriage license, the dispute in their case was resolved,” the appeals court wrote. “We conclude that the district court’s characterization of this case as simply contesting the ‘no marriage licenses’ policy is inaccurate because Ermold and Moore did not seek an injunction, they sought only damages. This action is not a general challenge to Davis’s policy, but rather seeks damages for a particularized harm allegedly suffered by a specific set of plaintiffs.”
The appeals court returned the case to Bunning for further action.
Michael J. Gartland, attorney for the couple, said they are suing Davis individually and in her capacity as a Rowan County official.
“We’re going to get damages, I’m sure of that,” Gartland said Tuesday. “There’s been no discovery yet. I can’t imagine it’s a huge amount of damages, but there are damages.”
The fight for marriage licenses in Rowan County became international news in 2015, turning Davis into a symbol of conservative resistance to the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling.