Defying the law, several county clerks around Kentucky said they won't issue marriage licenses to anyone because of the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-to-4 ruling Friday in favor of a nationwide right to same-sex marriage.
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis said Monday that her Christian beliefs make it impossible for her to give marriage licenses to gay men or lesbians seeking to marry a member of the same sex. Rather than face claims of discrimination, Davis said, her office in Morehead is refusing marriage licenses to all couples until further notice.
"We've not had any applicants yet, but we've had several calls," said Davis, 49, a Democrat who took office in January.
"It's hard, I will tell you that," Davis said. "What has happened is that five lawyers have imposed their personal view of what the definition of marriage should be on the rest of us. And I, as a Christian, have strong views, too. And I know I don't stand alone."
Chris Jobe, president of the Kentucky County Clerks Association, said he has heard from several clerks who have religious objections to same-sex marriage, so they have decided to stop issuing any marriage licenses. Lawrence County, where Jobe is clerk, likewise has gotten out of the marriage-license business, at least for now.
"We're exploring our options," Jobe said, citing the suddenness of the change. "We're still trying to sort it out."
Several more clerks are consulting with their county attorneys to determine whether they must obey the letter Gov. Steve Beshear sent them Friday, instructing them to comply with the Supreme Court's decision, Jobe said. In a follow-up statement Monday, Beshear said he expects the clerks "to execute the duties of their offices as prescribed by law and to issue marriage licenses to all Kentuckians."
It's a Class A misdemeanor in Kentucky — first-degree official misconduct — if "a public servant ... refrains from performing a duty imposed upon him by law or clearly inherent in the nature of his office."
Attorney General Jack Conway said in a statement: "Any clerk that refuses to issue marriage licenses is opening himself or herself to potential legal liability and sanctions."
County clerks who won't give a marriage license to qualified applicants of any sexual orientation can expect a civil-rights lawsuit, said Bill Sharp, legal director of the Kentucky chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"We think the governor's directive to the clerks was consistent with the Supreme Court's decision, and the court's decision was final," Sharp said. "The county clerks' duty includes issuing marriage licenses to anyone who is qualified to apply for one. The fact that they might personally disagree with those qualifications is irrelevant."
Clerks in Casey and Montgomery counties said they also have suspended the issuance of marriage licenses at their courthouses. Clinton County Clerk Shelia Booher said she's "still getting legal advice" on how she can proceed, but nobody has asked her office for a license since Friday, anyway. By contrast, Laurel County Clerk Dean Johnson said he issued a license to a same-sex couple Monday.
"I will follow the letter of the law," Johnson said. "We're bound by the statutes. If there's an alternative to the law, then I don't know of it."
Clerks in Lexington and Louisville began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples within hours of the court decision Friday.
In suburban Northern Kentucky, Boone County Clerk Kenny Brown — who publicly had supported the state's same-sex marriage ban — did not issue any marriage licenses Friday while he "digested" the decision. But Monday, his office was issuing licenses to all applicants, deputy clerk Amanda Oberer said.
Beshear sent a letter to all 120 county clerks Friday that read, in part, "The Obergefell decision makes plain that the Constitution requires that Kentucky — and all states — must license and recognize the marriages of same-sex couples. Neither your oath nor the Supreme Court dictates what you must believe. But as elected officials, they do prescribe how we must act."
Montgomery County Clerk Chris Cockrell, though, said he isn't prepared to change his own definition of marriage so quickly.
"I have suspended all marriage licenses until I can get legal counsel," Cockrell said. "Nobody had even read the whole court ruling yet — it was, like, 109 pages — when the governor was sending us a letter saying, 'Go, go, go!' Well, a lot of us still have questions."