A gay couple emerged from the office of a defiant county clerk with a marriage license in hand Friday morning, embracing and crying after a lengthy standoff that landed the clerk in jail for her refusal to issue the licenses because she opposed same-sex marriage.
MOREHEAD, Ky. (AP) — A jailed Kentucky clerk asserted that marriage licenses issued without her authority Friday to gay couples in Rowan County are void and “not worth the paper they are written on” because she didn’t authorize them, her attorney said.
Kim Davis now wears an orange jumpsuit and “has already been doing Bible studies with herself” in jail, her attorney Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel told reporters after meeting with her behind bars. He said Davis is in very good spirits, and is prepared to stay as long as it takes to uphold her religious freedoms.
“She’s not going to resign, she’s not going to sacrifice her conscience, so she’s doing what Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, which is to pay the consequences for her decision,” Staver said.
Meanwhile, Staver said he’s preparing to appeal U.S. District Judge David Bunning’s contempt finding as one of several legal challenges on her behalf.
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At least three gay couples received marriage licenses Friday from one of Davis’ deputies, embracing and celebrating after repeatedly being turned away before Davis was jailed on Thursday. Their attorneys, along with Rowan County Attorney Cecil Watkins, said the licenses are valid. Bunning said Thursday he did not know if the licenses were valid but ordered them to be issued anyway.
Marriage licenses in Kentucky usually have the elected clerk’s signature on them; those handed out Friday lacked any signature. The Rowan County attorney and lawyers for the gay couples said they are legal and valid nevertheless. When the judge was asked if the licenses will be considered valid without Davis’ authorization, he said it was up to the gay couples to take that chance.
William Smith Jr. and James Yates, a couple for nearly a decade, were the first through the door. Deputy clerk Brian Mason congratulated the couple, shook their hands and accepted their fee of $35.50. Yates then rushed across the courthouse steps to hug his mom.
“Civil rights are civil rights and they are not subject to belief,” said Yates, who had been denied a license five times previously.
A crowd of supporters cheered and a street preacher rained down words of condemnation as they left. Yates and Smith said they are trying to choose between two wedding dates and plan a small ceremony.
Kim Davis had refused to issue any marriage licenses rather than comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June legalizing gay marriage nationwide. After ordering her to jail, the judge told her six deputy clerks that they too faced potential fines or jail time if they similarly refuse. All but one — the clerk’s son, Nathan Davis — agreed to end her church-state standoff.
A second couple, Timothy and Michael Long, got their license later Friday, enduring a taunt of “More sodomites getting married?” from a man inside the office. The Longs did not respond, and a worker told the man to leave.
A third couple, April Miller and Karen Roberts, got their license around midday.
“Now we can breathe. I’m still ecstatic and happy. I just can’t wait to get married now,” Roberts said.
The judge offered to release Davis if she promises not to interfere with her employees issuing the licenses, but she refused.
Davis husband, Joe Davis, also came to the courthouse Friday, holding a sign saying “Welcome to Sodom and Gomorrah.”
He said his wife was in good spirits after her first night in jail. Asked if she would resign, he said, “Oh, God no. She’s not going to resign at all. It’s a matter of telling Bunning he ain’t the boss.”
Davis’ son, who said he supports his mother, was warned by the judge Thursday not to interfere with his fellow employees. The judge said he did not want “any shenanigans,” such as closing the office for computer upgrades as they did briefly last week.
“That would show a level of disrespect for the court’s order,” Bunning said. “I’m hoping that cooler heads will prevail.”
The judge indicated Kim Davis would remain in jail at least a week, saying he would revisit his decision after the deputy clerks have had time to comply with his order.
Staver called on the judge as well as Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear to make “reasonable accommodations” so that Davis can keep her job without violating her beliefs as an Apostolic Christian. He suggested that with an executive order, he could change all the forms in Kentucky so that none require a clerk’s signature or say that they’ve been issued under a clerk’s authority.
Kentucky lawmakers won’t meet until January, unless the governor calls a costly special session, and when they do, they say they will have many changes to make to adapt the state’s civil code to the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Associated Press writer Claire Galofaro in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report.