COVINGTON — A sometimes-tearful Kim Davis took the stand Monday to say her decision as Rowan County clerk to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples was a heartfelt one based on her religious convictions.
"It was something I had prayed and fasted over. ... It wasn't a spur of the moment decision," Davis told U.S. District Judge David Bunning, her voice breaking.
To authorize licenses means "I'm saying I agree with it, and I can't."
Her choice to also deny licenses to straight couples was because "I didn't want to discriminate against anyone."
Two of those straight couples and two gay couples from Rowan County sued Davis shortly after her office stopped issuing marriage licenses to anyone in the wake of the June 26 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned Kentucky's ban on same-sex marriage and declared the practice legal across the country.
Bunning said he probably would issue a decision the week of Aug. 10.
Davis, who described herself as an Apostolic Christian and goes to church three times a week, said she believes that all sexual activity outside of marriage is a sin, but she has not questioned couples about sin before giving them a marriage license.
She does question, however, the Supreme Court's decision defining marriage as something other than between one man and one woman. That definition, Davis said, is in the Bible, which is "God's holy word."
Davis said she also thinks the Supreme Court decision violates her First Amendment right to religious freedom.
Davis said that shortly after she took office in January, she went to a clerks meeting in Frankfort, where they organized a committee to discuss possible fallout from the U.S. Supreme Court, which had agreed to consider the case of same-sex marriage bans in several states, including Kentucky. She wrote a letter to legislators in which she "pleaded with them to help protect clerks who had a moral issue in this regard."
The call for legislative relief continued after the decision came down, when 17 clerks sent form letters asking the governor to call a special legislative session to find a way to exempt clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
One of those clerks, Casey County's Casey Davis, appeared at Monday's hearing in Covington in support of Kim Davis. Casey Davis also has refused to issue licenses, although he has not been sued, he said. He met with Gov. Steve Beshear, who told him to do his job or resign. Beshear has said he won't call a special session at a cost of $60,000 a day.
"I think he needs to do his job or quit," Casey Davis said of Beshear after the hearing.
In the courthouse, Kim Davis said she had never before objected to anything related to her job on religious grounds, including during her 27 years as a deputy clerk in Rowan.
Davis said she has no plans to resign.
"That leaves my deputies to deal with this," she said. "If I resign, it solves nothing and helps no one."
According to a legislative pay scale for elected county officials adjusted for experience and county population, Davis makes almost $80,000 a year.
She said four of her deputies also oppose same-sex marriage, one is ambivalent, and one would issue the licenses willingly.
But Davis' name appears on the license as Rowan County clerk, so that deputy "would not have my authority to issue that license," she said.
Davis said she swore an oath to uphold the U.S. and Kentucky constitutions, and when she took office, the Kentucky Constitution banned same-sex marriage.
When plaintiffs' attorney Dan Canon asked her about the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to redefine marriage, Davis responded: "It's not the definition I agree with."
Later, Canon, a lawyer assisting the American Civil Liberties Union with the case, asked her what she would do if Bunning ordered her to issue licenses.
"I'll deal with that when the time comes," she said.
"Who has the final say as to what the United States Constitution says?" Canon then asked her.
Davis was silent for a moment. "I don't know," she finally said.
The only other person to testify Monday was Rowan County Judge-Executive Walter "Doc" Blevins, who said he would issue marriage licenses if, according to statute, Davis was absent from her job.
"I would follow the law," Blevins said. "Morally, it's a tough decision for me because in the Bible, marriage is between a man and a woman."
After the hearing, Davis' lawyer, Roger Gannam of Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit firm that specializes in religious-freedom cases, said the plaintiffs could have obtained licenses in Ashland, the site of the previous hearing, or in Covington.
"This case is not about these plaintiffs' desire to get married," Gannam said. "This case is about the plaintiffs' desire to force Kim Davis to approve and authorize their marriages in violation of her constitutionally protected religious beliefs."
Canon, representing the plaintiffs, said he thought Davis testified truthfully, but her logic wouldn't stand.
"If you apply her conception of the discretion that a county clerk has in office to its logical conclusion, the simple fact is that anybody can deny anyone a license any time they want to based on their own personal religious beliefs," Canon said, "and that policy, quite frankly, applied statewide, would be chaos."
There were two groups of protesters outside the federal courthouse. One group came to support Kim Davis, including Anna Sanders from Breckinridge County.
"We want to stand with her," she said.
The other group supports same-sex marriage and is opposed to what Morehead resident Michael Biel called "religious government" in Rowan County.