Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk incarcerated for refusing a court order to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, walked out of jail to the cheers of hundreds of supporters Tuesday. But whether she remains a free woman was unknown and depends on if she continues to defy the courts in the name of her religious beliefs.
Her lawyers insisted that Davis, 49, will not be swayed from her fight against issuing the licenses to same-sex couples, even if that means going back to jail when she returns to her office as Rowan County clerk.
Davis appeared joyful as she thanked the hundreds of supporters who rallied at the jail in Grayson, Ky. “I just want to give God the glory. His people have rallied, and you are strong,” she told the crowd, her arms held high in a V-for-victory gesture.
“Keep on pressing,” she said.
One of her lawyers said Davis had no intention of changing her position and would continue her legal fight.
“Kim Davis cannot and will not violate her conscience,” said Mat Staver, founder and head of Liberty Counsel, the Christian law firm that has represented Davis. Staver wouldn’t discuss whether Davis will issue the licenses and told reporters, “You'll find out in the near future.”
In a surprise, U.S. District Judge David L. Bunning on Tuesday ordered that Davis be released from the jail where she had been held since Thursday on a contempt charge. Bunning said he was satisfied that Davis’ deputies were fulfilling their obligation to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Three couples received their licenses Friday.
Bunning also made it clear he would not tolerate any disruptive behavior from Davis about the licenses. “If defendant Davis should interfere in any way with their issuance, that will be considered a violation of this order, and appropriate sanctions will be considered,” the judge wrote.
Davis stopped issuing all marriage licenses in June, the day after the U.S. Supreme Court held that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. An Apostolic Christian, Davis said her religious beliefs prevented her from giving marriage licenses to gays, so she stopped issuing licenses to all couples.
Two gay and two straight couples sued Davis, who lost on the district court and appellate court levels. The Supreme Court also ruled against her in the weeks of legal battles.
Those decisions set up Thursday’s appearance before Bunning who could have fined Davis. Instead, he sent her to jail until she was willing to comply with his order to issue the licenses.
Davis never did agree to issue the licenses, but five of her deputies did. The sixth deputy, Davis’ son, Nathan, followed his mother and refused to issue the licenses.
The judge noted that the licenses had been altered so that “Rowan County,” rather than the name “Kim Davis,” appeared on the document. It was unclear whether that change would be enough to satisfy Davis.
Over the Labor Day weekend, attorneys representing Davis asked the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to free her and force the governor of Kentucky to make accommodations for her beliefs. They also asked the appeals court to overturn Bunning’s contempt ruling.
Bunning acted separately from those appeals, which Staver said would be continued.
Staver has also insisted that the marriage licenses issued by the deputies were invalid because Davis never agreed to issue them.
State officials, including Gov. Steve Beshear disagreed on Tuesday. “Those marriage licenses are legal,” he told reporters in Lexington, Ky., about 60 miles from Rowan County. The governor called on the state to move beyond the current dispute.
Davis has become a symbol for conservative Christians who oppose same-sex marriage. Those Christians are also a key voting bloc for the Republican presidential nomination, especially in the early voting states, including the Iowa caucuses and the Southern primaries.
GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist minister who often reaches out to religious conservatives, said Davis exercised her religious freedom by denying the marriage licenses.
“If somebody has to go to jail, I'm willing to go in her place. I believe that,” said Huckabee, also a former Arkansas governor, who escorted Davis from the jail to the rally. “She has shown more courage than any politician I know. She not only said something, she was willing to put her life at risk.”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, another Republican presidential candidate, also visited the jail in support of Davis.
Casey County Clerk Casey Davis, who recently finished riding his bicycle more than 400 miles across Kentucky in solidarity with Davis, told reporters that he was relieved she was released. They are not related.
He said he will continue to not issue any marriage licenses and suspects the conflict could come to his county next, though no lawsuits are pending.
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