MOREHEAD, Ky. (AP) – Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis shut her blinds when she arrived at work Tuesday, blocking the view of several dozen rainbow-clad protesters outside her office who chanted “do your job” and carried signs that read “You Don’t Own Marriage.”
Then, at about 8:30 a.m., the newly elected clerk in Morehead, Kentucky, turned away a local lesbian couple who walked in and asked for a marriage license.
Davis is among a scattered assortment of public officials across the Bible Belt so repulsed by the thought of enabling a same-sex marriage that they are defying the U.S. Supreme Court and refusing to issue a license to anyone, gay or straight.
Judges and clerks in Alabama and Texas have done the same, citing state laws that say they “may” issue marriage licenses. If they “may,” then they “may not,” some argue.
The ruling legalizing gay marriage nationwide left room for personal religious objections, but these officials are asserting a broader right, claiming that they won’t be discriminating if they take their government offices out of the marriage business altogether.
The immediate result is a confusing array of ad-hoc policies as some state and local governments wrestle over how and when to implement what the highest court in the land called a constitutional right for all Americans.
Hours after Friday’s ruling, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear ordered clerks to immediately begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. A handful refused, citing their faith and the American promise of religious liberty and free speech.
“It’s a deep-rooted conviction, my conscience won’t allow me to do that,” Davis told The Associated Press after refusing a license to April Miller and Karen Roberts, who have been together for 11 years and were Rowan County’s first gay couple to request one. “It goes against everything I hold dear, everything sacred in my life.”
Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway’s spokesman, Leland Hulbert, said the issue will likely have to be resolved in civil court. The office encouraged couples to seek private counsel.
Miller and Roberts, who live in Morehead, did just that, contacting the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, which on Monday offered to represent any couple refused a license.
“This is where we live,” Miller said. “We pay taxes here, we vote here. And we want to get married here.”
A reverse dynamic is happening in Texas, where Attorney General Ken Paxton released a statement Sunday asserting that clerks can refuse gay couples on religious grounds. Paxton noted that many private lawyers are available to defend public officials who do so.
A representative of the governor’s office called Miller and left a voicemail as she stood among the crowd outside the Rowan County office.
“Oh God, this is beautiful,” Miller exclaimed as she listened to the message. The voice on the line said elected officials in Kentucky took an oath and are beholden to perform their duties, including issuing marriage licenses to all.
Drivers passing honked and waved, they flew rainbow flags from their windows and shouted “love must win” from their open windows.
But a small group also gathered to support Davis’ decision. Their presence highlighted the stark divide that remains in the most theologically conservative stretches of the South and Midwest, in states that fought hard for years to prevent same-sex marriage.
“I want to support someone who believes in the same thing that I do,” said Dennis Buschman, who carried a Bible as he led a half-dozen people supporting the clerk’s defiance. “Our country is on the wrong path, we as a people no longer exalt God.”
He called homosexuality as “abomination” and a “serious, serious sin.”
Some protesters confronted them.
“God did not elect her, I did,” said Kevin Bass, a former police officer who arrived at the courthouse with his wife to support gay couples seeking licenses. “If she objects to doing her job, she can go.”
As a police officer for 20 years, he said, he could not choose which laws he liked to enforce.
Inside the county building, Davis seemed worried. She showed the AP a curse-laden hate mail she received overnight. When she took her oath of office in January and promised to uphold the state constitution, gay marriage wasn’t a part of the deal, she figures.
Davis would not say whether she’ll quit her job to stand up for her beliefs, but she said she will never issue a license to a gay couple, no matter what.
“No man can put a harness on his conscience. That is protected by the Kentucky Constitution, the very Constitution I took an oath to uphold,” she said.