Lawyers for Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk jailed for refusing to give marriage licenses to same-sex couples, filed appeals over the weekend to win her release as two Republican presidential candidates planned to visit Davis behind bars.
Davis, who has refused to issue licenses to straight or gay couples since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in June, was jailed last week for failing to carry out her official duties as Rowan County clerk.
Her lawyers have since asked for an injunction from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals directing Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear to remove Davis’s name from marriage licenses, allowing the county to issue licenses while accommodating Davis’s religious beliefs.
The lawyers argue that such religious accommodations are required under Kentucky’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which says that government cannot burden someone’s religious freedom without a compelling government interest. Five of the six remaining officials in the Rowan County clerk’s office have been issuing marriage licenses since Davis was jailed.
Meanwhile, Davis has become a symbol for many conservatives who oppose gay marriage. Two GOP presidential candidates, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, plan to visit Davis in jail on Tuesday.
Davis was elected to her position in November 2014 and can only be officially removed through an impeachment, says University of Kentucky law professor Scott Bauries. But that isn’t likely. The Kentucky General Assembly, which would bring impeachment proceedings, currently isn’t in session. While Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, could theoretically call a special session, experts say the divided legislature would side with Rowan. “She’s probably got enough supporters that she wouldn’t be impeached anyway,” Bauries says.
Rowan County Attorney Cecil Watkins has also referred the case to the state attorney general to investigate whether Davis engaged in official misconduct, specifically over her refusal to perform official duties. “We’re reviewing that matter,” Leland Hulbert, a spokesperson for the Kentucky attorney general’s office, said last week. “Whether or not our office assigns a special prosecutor about possible criminal charges, that is probably yet to be determined.”
The clerk could resign of course — but she ruled that out in a statement released by her law firm Liberty Counsel. “Some people have said I should resign, but I have done my job well,” Davis wrote. “To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. … I intend to serve the people of Rowan County, but I cannot violate my conscience.”
In June, the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. Soon after, Davis began her standoff with federal judges, citing “God’s authority” and her Christian beliefs. She filed a lawsuit in federal court after Gov. Beshear ordered the state’s clerks to issue same-sex marriage licenses, but both a district court judge and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Davis, who then appealed to the Supreme Court. A district court granted Davis a stay, which expired last week, and the Supreme Court rejected an emergency motion filed by Davis to extend that stay.
– With additional reporting by Eliza Gray