Politics & Government

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis leaves jail; judge orders her not to interfere with marriages

Kim Davis hugged her mother Jean Bailey after being released from the Carter Co. Detention Center, Sept. 8, 2015. Photo by Pablo Alcala | staff
Kim Davis hugged her mother Jean Bailey after being released from the Carter Co. Detention Center, Sept. 8, 2015. Photo by Pablo Alcala | staff

GRAYSON — Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis emerged from the Carter County jail Tuesday afternoon flanked by Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and her attorney, who pledged that Davis would continue her stand against same-sex marriage.

Davis will not resign and neither will she "violate her conscience," said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit litigation firm that represents Davis.

Davis, an Apostolic Christian, then took the stage at a rally outside the jail, where she thanked hundreds who stood in the heat to support her.

"I just want to give God the glory," Davis said, urging the crowd to "keep on pressing; don't let down because he is here."

U.S. District Judge David L. Bunning issued an order releasing Davis from custody early Tuesday afternoon, five days after he jailed her for refusing to issue marriage licenses.

Bunning took the action after attorneys for same-sex couples who had been refused licenses by Davis reported to the judge that a deputy clerk had issued licenses to three couples involved in the complaint. However, Bunning also instructed Davis not to interfere, directly or indirectly, with the efforts of her deputy clerks to issue licenses.

If she does, it will violate his order, and he will consider sanctions, Bunning said.

On Wednesday morning, Davis' lawyers said she's taking a couple days off work, until Friday at least.

Bunning also ordered attorneys for the five deputy clerks who agreed to issue licenses to send him a report every 14 days on how they have complied. He did not say when that reporting would end.

Staver noted the portion of Bunning's order that warned Davis not to stop deputies from issuing licenses, but he said "the problem is today the same as it was when this case began: Her name and her authority is on a license, and it's issued under the authority of the clerk of Rowan County. And it's issued under the authority of Kim Davis' name."

"She cannot allow her name to be associated with something that conflicts with God's" laws, Staver said. "Today Kim Davis is a free woman but her conscience did not change ... to get freedom."

Staver said Davis would return to work this week, but he said she would "not violate her conscience."

Staver recounted how Davis found religion after several past marriages, before declaring that Davis would not resign her $80,000-a-year job.

"Kim Davis loves God. She loves people and she loves her job," Staver said.

He added: "She will not resign that position."

Analysis: Politics marries religion at rally after Kim Davis released from jail

Marriage licenses issued since Friday in Rowan County were altered to remove Kim Davis' name

Republican presidential candidates’ views on Kim Davis

Randy Smith, an evangelist from Morehead, said supporters of Davis were excited by the news of her release. "They are absolutely elated," he said.

Smith said he thought Bunning, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush, decided to release Davis, a Democrat, to ease the pressure on some Democratic politicians: Gov. Steve Beshear; his son Andy, who is running for attorney general; and Attorney General Jack Conway, the Democratic nominee for governor. Davis and her supporters have called on the governor to convene a special session of the Kentucky General Assembly to rewrite the state's marriage laws.

Beshear told reporters Tuesday afternoon in Lexington that he was glad Davis was out of jail and said he didn't think her religious liberties ever were challenged.

"I took no joy at all in the fact that the clerk was in custody, but that was a matter between the judge and the clerk," Beshear said after addressing an environmental conference.

Beshear said he didn't see Davis' religious freedoms ever being "trampled upon."

"You had a public official who voluntarily ran for election to that office, was paid $80,000 a year, and statutes set out her duties," Beshear said. "She then decided to pick out the duties she would perform, and not perform some of the others."

Davis stopped issuing marriage licenses to any couples, gay or straight, after the Supreme Court ruled in June that same-sex couples have a legal right to marry. She has said that same-sex marriage conflicts with her religious beliefs and that she could not issue a license under her name to a same-sex couple.

Beshear said state lawmakers probably would reconsider the state's marriage laws during the 2016 General Assembly, which begins in January. He said he would never call a special legislative session on the issue "when we had 117 of 120 clerks complying with the law." Beshear's term as governor ends in December.

Asked whether he would sign an executive order to change the licensing process, Beshear said, "We can make some changes in the forms, but I can't change state law that says county clerks issue marriage licenses."

Martin Cothran, spokesman for The Family Foundation, said releasing Davis didn't change the threat to religious freedom.

"There is no indication that the next person who exercises his or her First Amendment right to free religious exercise will not be thrown in jail, too," Cothran said.

He called for strengthening Kentucky's religious-freedom protections. "We need to make sure this doesn't happen again," he said.

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