A federal judge sent Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis to jail Thursday for contempt of court after she testified that her religious beliefs against same-sex marriage made it impossible for her to comply with his order to resume issuing marriage licenses.
“My conscience will not allow me,” Davis told U.S. District Judge David Bunning in a quiet voice. Davis, an Apostolic Christian, has refused to issue any marriage licenses in Rowan County since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in June.
After U.S. marshals took Davis into custody, where she is expected to remain until she agrees to comply with Bunning’s order, the judge ordered her six deputy clerks to stand and tell him if they would comply with his order to issue marriage licenses, at the risk of facing their own contempt penalties.
All but one of the deputies — Nathan Davis, Kim Davis’ son — said they would obey the judge, some more reluctantly than others.
“I’m a preacher’s daughter,” deputy clerk Melissa Thompson told the judge, crying. “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.”
Bunning said he would not hold the younger Davis in contempt since the rest of his colleagues were willing to obey the law.
So on Friday, the Rowan County clerk’s office is set to open without its clerk, for the first time recognizing the Supreme Court’s landmark gay marriage decision. At least two of the couples suing Davis for a marriage license said they planned to be at the county courthouse early Friday to apply yet again — with the expectation of success this time.
“It’s sad in a way that Ms. Davis decided she wants to stay in jail,” said Jody Fernandez, one of the plaintiffs, who is engaged to marry Kevin Holloway. “I never wanted her to be going to jail. But that was her choice today.”
Outside the courthouse, Roger Gannam, one of Davis’ lawyers, called the clerk’s jailing “unprecedented in American law.” Davis’ legal team indicated they immediately planned to appeal Bunning’s civil contempt finding.
“Today, for the first time in American history, an American citizen has been incarcerated for having the belief and conscience that marriage is a union of one man and one woman,” Gannam said.
The judge rejected such arguments during the daylong set of hearings. Bunning said he has his own religious beliefs as a Catholic, and Kim Davis is welcome to hers. But she cannot, as a public servant, put her religious beliefs above a Supreme Court decision and his preliminary injunction of Aug. 12, ordering her to resume issuing marriage licenses, Bunning said.
Following Davis’ logic, Bunning said, a Catholic county clerk could refuse to give a marriage license to a divorced applicant without proof that the previous marriage was annulled, as church doctrine requires.
Davis, who has said repeatedly she will not resign her elected office, appealed the preliminary injunction to the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, both of which flatly denied her, Bunning noted. By continuing to flout the order this week after running out of appeals, Davis crossed a line, he said.
“The court doesn’t do this lightly, ma’am,” Bunning told Davis as he found her in contempt. “You don’t strike me as someone who is contentious or combative.
“In this country, we live in a society of laws. Our system of justice requires citizens — and significantly, elected officials — to follow the rules of the courts.”
Originally posted on Lexington Herald-Leader