For the first time, a Kentucky county clerk is appealing an order to issue same-sex marriage licenses despite the Supreme Court ruling requiring her to do so.
On Monday, Federal District Judge David Bunning ordered a temporary stay on the issuing of marriage licenses by the Rowan County Clerk’s Office while the appeal is pending, according to court documents.
David Moore and David Ermold are one of at least four couples who were refused a marriage license by the Rowan County Clerk in Morehead, Kentucky.
They been together for the past 17 years and have lived in Rowan County for the past 10 years. They attempted to get a marriage license twice, first in July and for a second time in August. They recorded both of their attempts and posted them to social media.
The footage shows the couple presenting the clerk’s office with a letter from Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and a copy of the Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in June.
“This is how gay people are treated in this country, this is what it’s like, this is their experience, this is how it feels,” Ermold said in an emotional statement after being denied for the second time.
Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk, believes it is within her First Amendment rights to deny the same-sex licenses based on her religious beliefs. She has vowed to continue to deny them, despite being ordered to do so by Beshear and a federal court judge.
“Our form of government will not survive unless we, as a society, agree to respect the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions, regardless of our personal opinions. Davis is certainly free to disagree with the Court’s opinion, as many Americans likely do, but that does not excuse her from complying with it,” Bunning’s August 12 order reads.
Davis filed an appeal on Bunning’s order the same day it was issued, according to Liberty Counsel, a litigation organization that is representing Davis. She also stopped issuing marriage licenses to anyone, gay or straight. The organization believes that forcing Davis to issue same-sex marriage licenses would be a violation of her religious convictions.
“My Kentucky constitution that I took the oath to uphold in January stated that marriage is between one man and one woman. And that is the constitution that I have vowed to uphold,” Davis told CNN affiliate WSAZ.
“This is a much bigger battle than one small county or two small counties that are standing up for what they believe in.”
Meanwhile, the ACLU is representing four couples — two gay and two straight — who were denied licenses after Davis decided to stop issuing them all together.
“[Davis] is a public servant, and she’s supposed to serve all of the public. It’s a part of her job to issue marriage licenses, and issuing marriage licenses doesn’t mean that she endorses anybody’s marriage,” James Esseks, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & HIV Project at the ACLU, told CNN.
Esseks believes Davis is among a “handful of resisters.”
“National polling shows that most people in this country feel that same-sex couples should be able to get married and are fine with it,” Esseks said.
While the overwhelming majority of same-sex couples can easily obtain marriage licenses, the pockets of resistance that still exist could lead to a new round of court battles that impact how the Supreme Court’s ruling is implemented around the country.
Other cases in the United States
In Alabama, 13 of the state’s 67 counties have stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether. State Sen. Greg Albritton has proposed a bill that would take the state out of the marriage business by getting rid of licenses issued by probate judges. Instead, couples would enter into marriage contracts that they would file on their own with a probate court.
But gay couples are fighting back as well.
In Granbury, Texas, Jim Cato and Joe Stapleton were initially denied a license by Hood County clerk Katie Lang in July.
“The religious doctrines to which I adhere compel me to personally refrain from issuing same-sex marriage licenses,” Lang said in a statement. “I am grateful that the First Amendment continues to protect the sincerely held religious beliefs of public servants like me.”
Lang eventually allowed a deputy to issue the license, but Cato and Stapleton are still suing for damages. They have waited 27 years to get married, according to their lawsuit, which is still pending.
As for Ermold and Moore, they are prepared to take their fight to the end, confident that their patience will eventually be rewarded.
“We waited for years to get married, we’ve been together forever and we waited,” said Ermold. “He (Moore) wanted to wait until it was legal and recognized in all the states.”