FRANKFORT — The controversy over the refusal of a few county clerks in Kentucky to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples spilled over into the Capitol on Monday.
Casey County Clerk Casey Davis, who was trying to get a meeting with Gov. Steve Beshear, told reporters that his pledge to God to uphold the law would not allow him to accommodate same-sex couples.
He said the problem could be resolved by creating an online state system for issuing marriage licenses.
It's not certain how much that would cost or how it would affect fees collected by county clerks for issuing marriage licenses.
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Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 26 that same-sex marriages are legal in all states, Casey Davis and Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis have refused to issue licenses to anyone.
The ACLU of Kentucky and several of the Louisville lawyers who successfully persuaded the Supreme Court to strike down Kentucky's ban on gay marriage have filed a federal lawsuit suit against Kim Davis and are keeping an eye on others who decline to follow the ruling.
Couples in Rowan County — two same-sex, two opposite sex — are seeking class-action status in their federal lawsuit against the county clerk, meaning the number of plaintiffs and the financial damages awarded could rise if they are successful.
The case was assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Henry Wilhoit, who on Monday recused himself without comment, said Dan Canon, an attorney for the ACLU.
Then the case was assigned to U.S. District Judge David Bunning, son of former U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning. Judge Bunning will hold a preliminary hearing Monday in Ashland, Canon said.
"We've asked the court to immediately order the Rowan County clerk to begin issuing licenses," Canon said.
Kim Davis did not return calls to the Herald-Leader on Monday.
"We still believe she is violating the law, and that's why we've asked for immediate relief," Canon said, "but I don't know if she will issue any licenses between now and Monday. Given the fact that there is a Supreme Court order that says she must do so, is she likely to do so because a district court judge tells her to do so? I doubt it."
Canon said he expected a favorable ruling that would have some effect on the Casey County clerk as well.
In Frankfort, Casey Davis met briefly with Beshear's chief of staff, Larry Bond, on Monday afternoon. Beshear spokesman Terry Sebastian said the governor had to be in Louisville to meet with officials about health insurer Aetna's purchase of smaller rival Humana for $37 billion in cash and stock.
Davis said he would have rather met with Beshear but was assured that Beshear would meet with him later to hear his concerns.
Earlier Monday at an economic development news conference in Lexington, Beshear said he would be glad to talk to any public official about the Supreme Court ruling.
"But, my position is clear because I took the same oath they did, and that oath is to uphold that constitutional ruling, regardless as to what you feel about it," Beshear said. "But I'll talk to them. I certainly encourage them to go ahead and perform their duties and move along."
The Democratic governor said he was "proud that the vast majority of clerks has marched on and are doing their jobs."
Beshear said his administration is focusing now on paperwork related to the ruling, such as guidelines about who may claim marital benefits and how far back a person may go to get tax refunds.
Beshear took issue with clerks like Casey Davis who say their refusal to issue licenses is similar to Attorney General Jack Conway's decision not to appeal the federal court ruling in Kentucky that legalized same-sex marriages.
Beshear, who eventually filed the appeal to get a final answer from the Supreme Court as to what the law would be, said, "Jack Conway took the same oath that we all took, and he is upholding his oath because there is no statute that requires him to appeal every case."
Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, said he had no objection to Beshear's meeting with Casey Davis and other clerks who object to the Supreme Court ruling.
"It's a matter of courtesy on his part," Hartman said. "I am sure the governor will be polite and tell him it's his constitutional duty to follow the law or step aside."
Casey Davis said he had no plans to resign. He also said he had no ill feelings toward same-sex couples who want to marry.
"I just took an oath and pledged to God," he said. "My conscience won't let me go against that."
Asked if he would pay for his own legal defense, and not use taxpayers' money for it if he is sued, Davis said, "When that bridge comes, I will cross it."
He said the people in Casey County supported him. He read to reporters a letter he said he received from a 14-year-old boy who praised his actions "in the name of Jesus."
Asked if he would deny a marriage license to a couple who did not believe in Jesus, Davis said, "That's not the issue."
He added that "nature should not be perverted."
Several of Davis' friends accompanied him to the Capitol, including Pastor Jeff Fugate of Clays Mill Baptist Church in Lexington.
Fugate said he drove Davis to the Capitol and was with him at a rally earlier in the day in Casey County that attracted about 1,200 supporters of the county clerk.
Meanwhile, Kent Ostrander, executive director of The Family Foundation, announced at a Capitol news conference the establishment of the Kentucky Religious Liberty Defense Fund to pay for the legal defense "of those who are targeted to have their religious liberty curtailed."
Ostrander also called on Beshear to issue an executive order or consider calling a special legislative session to protect religious liberties.
"In this marriage matter, there is no reason for the force of government to come against citizens and workers with deeply held religious convictions," he said.
Ostrander said 100 percent of the money collected for the legal defense fund would go to it and would be tax-deductible.