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Rowan County Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis speaks to a gathering of supporters during a rally on the steps of the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky. on Aug. 22, 2015.
Timothy D. Easley—AP
Updated: | Originally published:

The Kentucky county clerk who is jailed because she will not issue marriage licenses to gay couples has a lot of fans among the Republican presidential hopefuls.

Social conservatives nationally have strongly backed Rowan County clerk Kim Davis, who has defied a U.S. District judge’s order to issue the licenses. The Republican contenders, meantime, are hoping to use the incident to bolster their credentials with a powerful primary voting bloc.

Most of the candidates have strongly backed Rowan County clerk Kim Davis, who was jailed Thursday after defying a U.S. District judge’s order to issue the licenses, while only two have sided against her.

“I stand with Kim Davis. Unequivocally,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said in a statement to reporters Thursday. “I stand with every American that the Obama Administration is trying to force to chose between honoring his or her faith or complying with a lawless court decision.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee linked Davis’ story to his broader concerns over religion in America.

“Kim Davis in federal custody removes all doubts about the criminalization of Christianity in this country,” he tweeted. “We must defend #ReligiousLiberty!”

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who has long called for resolving the debate over gay marriage by getting government out of the licensing business, also defended Davis.

“I think it’s absurd to put someone in jail for exercising their religious liberty,” he told CNN. “If you want to convince people that same-sex marriage is something that’s acceptable, I would say try to persuade people. But if we’re going to use the federal government … it’s going to harden people’s resolve on this issue.”

But other contenders called for compromise, suggesting that there might be some way to resolve the tension between Davis’ religious beliefs and the gay couples seeking marriage licenses.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told reporters that “the smart thing to do would be to move her to another job,” while Florida Sen. Marco Rubio told the New York Times before Davis was jailed that “there should be a way to protect the religious freedom” of court clerks.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina were the only two candidates to say that she was in the wrong, although they too said they respected where she was coming from.

“The rule of law is the rule of law. That’s what we are. We are a rule of law nation, and I appreciate her conviction. I support traditional marriage, but she’s accepted a job where she has to apply the law to everyone. And that’s her choice,” Graham told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday.

In a separate interview with Hewitt Tuesday, Fiorina drew a distinction between Davis and bakers and florists who have cited their religious beliefs when denying gay customers seeking wedding services.

“Is she prepared to continue to work for the government, be paid for by the government, in which case she needs to execute the government’s will, or does she feel so strongly about this that she wants to sever her employment with the government and go seek employment elsewhere,” she said.

On Thursday, however, Fiorina argued that jail time was unnecessary.

Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, meantime, ducked the issue in a Thursday afternoon press conference.

“I don’t know enough about it to comment on it. Was she jailed? I really don’t know much about it,” he said.

On the Democratic side, there was little debate. Frontrunner Hillary Clinton had little sympathy for Davis or her position.

“Marriage equality is the law of the land. Officials should be held to their duty to uphold the law—end of story,” she tweeted Thursday.

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