MOREHEAD — A federal judge has ordered Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis and her deputies to appear in his courtroom Thursday and explain why Davis should not be held in contempt of court for refusing to issue marriage licenses.
Shortly after opening her doors Tuesday, Davis told two same-sex couples who asked for marriage licenses that she would not issue them, despite a federal court injunction ordering her to do so.
In a brief but tense encounter between Davis and a couple dozen marriage-equality demonstrators who crowded into her office, the clerk repeatedly refused to comply with the court order.
"Under whose authority are you not issuing marriage licenses?" someone in the crowd asked Davis.
"Under God's authority," she responded.
"I'm willing to face my consequences and you all will face your consequences when it comes time for judgment," she said. "Plain and simple."
Davis, an Apostolic Christian, has refused to issue any marriage licenses in Rowan County since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage June 26. U.S. District Judge David Bunning issued a preliminary injunction Aug. 12 ordering Davis to resume issuing licenses. She appealed to the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, both of which denied her.
Lawyers for local couples who are suing Davis, demanding marriage licenses, quickly filed a motion Tuesday asking Bunning to find the clerk in contempt of court and fine her.
"Plaintiffs do not seek to compel Davis' compliance through incarceration," wrote William Sharp, legal director for the ACLU of Kentucky, which represents the couples.
"Since defendant Davis continues to collect compensation from the commonwealth for duties she fails to perform, plaintiffs urge the court to impose financial penalties sufficiently serious and increasingly onerous to compel Davis' immediate compliance without further delay," Sharp wrote.
Bunning responded by scheduling a contempt hearing for 11 a.m. Thursday at the U.S. District Courthouse in Ashland.
Separately, Attorney General Jack Conway continued to review a request from Rowan County Attorney Cecil Watkins, who wants a special prosecutor appointed to decide if Davis is guilty of official misconduct for failing to perform her public duties. The charge, a misdemeanor, could bring up to a year in jail.
Davis, a Democrat, was elected to a four-year term last November. She cannot be removed from her roughly $80,000-a-year post unless the General Assembly impeaches her.
In a prepared statement Tuesday, released through her lawyers, Davis said she has received death threats since she began her protest against same-sex marriage.
"I never imagined a day like this would come, where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus himself regarding marriage," Davis said. "I was elected by the people to serve as the county clerk. I intend to continue to serve the people of Rowan County, but I cannot violate my conscience."
There was a festival atmosphere outside the Rowan County courthouse Tuesday. More than 100 protesters — some supporting Davis, others opposing her — sang and shouted slogans at one another from across the entryway. Sheriff's deputies watched, but there were no arrests.
"This is a circus. I don't think anybody should have to go through this just to get a piece of paper saying you're married," said David Moore, one of the men who came seeking a marriage license. "I shouldn't have to remember this as the story of how I got married."
Moore said Tuesday was the third time he had unsuccessfully asked Davis for a marriage license.
"I feel like she's maliciously and intentionally harming people at this point," Moore said.
While he was inside Davis' office, Moore asked Rowan County Sheriff Matt Sparks to arrest the clerk for refusing to obey the law. The sheriff declined, telling Moore it was a matter for the federal courts, not for local law enforcement.
Davis' supporters praised her for standing firm in defense of a traditional definition of marriage. Wearing a camouflaged "God's Army" baseball cap, Norman Elam of Morgan County said the Supreme Court's landmark gay marriage decision was "Biblical prophesy," a sign of the end times.
"I'm here today to save America — not just spiritually, but physically, to keep this nation great," Elam said. "This (same-sex marriage) is designed to break down the family unit in America and cause the country to fall from within. I feel like that's what gays and lesbians are doing."
Standing in the marriage-equality crowd, Chris Hartman said marriage definitely has changed in Kentucky — but that's not a bad thing.
"It's become more inclusive now, it's better now," said Hartman, director of Fairness Campaign, a civil rights group based in Louisville. "That's exactly what the Supreme Court said, that every time we expand the definition of marriage in this country, it has strengthened the institution."