GRAYSON, Ky. (AP) – After five days behind bars that helped make her a hero to the religious right, county clerk Kim Davis was ordered released from jail Tuesday by the federal judge who locked her up for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
U.S. District Judge David Bunning lifted the contempt order against Davis, saying he was satisfied that her deputies were fulfilling their obligation to grant licenses to same-sex couples in her absence. But he warned Davis not to interfere.
A crowd of dozens of sign-carrying, flag-waving supporters who had gathered on the jailhouse lawn for what they called a rally for religious freedom swelled to hundreds as the news of the judge’s action spread. Supporters handed out white crosses, sang “Amazing Grace” ”God Bless America” and chanted, “Let Kim go!”
The move came down just before Davis received jailhouse visits from Republican presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz. They were ushered into the building shortly after the judge’s order was issued, as was Davis’ husband, Joe Davis.
Davis was jailed Sept. 3 for the boldest act of resistance yet by a public official to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that effectively legalized gay marriage across the nation.
The timing of her release order came as something of a surprise. Last week, Bunning said that he might reconsider his decision to jail her in a week.
Citing “God’s authority,” Davis, an Apostolic Christian, stopped issuing marriage licenses in June after the Supreme Court said gay couples have a constitutional right to marry anywhere in the U.S.
Two gay couples and two heterosexual couples sued her. Bunning ordered Davis to issue the licenses, and the Supreme Court upheld his ruling. But she still refused, and was held in contempt of court and hauled off to jail in handcuffs, igniting protests from members of the religious right.
They have rallied for days outside her office, at the jail, even outside the judge’s home.
With Davis behind bars, five of Davis’ six deputy clerks – all except her son, Nathan Davis – agreed to issue licenses to gay couples. In lifting the contempt order, Bunning asked for updates on the five clerks’ compliance every two weeks.
Davis’ jailing has offered some of the many GOP presidential candidates an opportunity to appeal to the party’s evangelical Christian wing, which opposes gay marriage and casts Davis’ imprisonment as an issue of religious freedom.
On Monday, Davis’s lawyers took their case to a federal appeals court, asking that Davis be allowed to remove her name and title from marriage certificates issued in Rowan County so that she would not have to act against her conscience.
Casey County Clerk Casey Davis, who recently finished riding a bike more than 400 miles across the state of Kentucky in solidarity with Kim Davis, said he was relieved she was being released. He is not related to her.
“It’s been a total injustice for her being there to begin with,” he said.
But he said he is still not issuing any marriage licenses, and suspects the conflict could come to his county next. He said only one same-sex couple has inquired about a marriage license in his county and was told there were no licenses being issued, and that’s the last Davis heard from them.
He said he, too, would be willing to go to jail.