Q&A

Kentucky clerk against same-sex marriage: 'I hope they don't sue me'

'We can live in this world together and disagree,' says Kentucky county clerk against same-sex marriage

In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, county clerks across the country with religious objections have found themselves at the forefront of a political battle.

Some of the most outspoken against enforcing the ruling have been clerks in Kentucky, including the one for Casey County. That would be the aptly named Casey Davis, 42, a Republican based in the county seat of Liberty. Casey County, in central Kentucky, has a population of about 16,000.

In a telephone interview with the Los Angeles Times shortly before he closed his office Thursday ahead of the July 4 holiday, Davis explained his opposition to same-sex marriage and and offered a possible solution that would recognize religious rights while still providing licenses.

How many years have you been clerk, and what did you do before that?

It’s been 4 1/2 years. I was a deputy in the circuit clerk’s office for eight years, before that I worked in a steel cord factory making steel for radial tires.

What is your religious affiliation, and why did that lead you to object to issuing same-sex marriage licenses?

I’m Separate Baptist. I believe that when the Lord said that man was to fall in love and cleave to his wife, that’s what he meant. I believe that First Chapter of Romans exclusively says homosexuality is not the right way to conduct ourselves.

But lay all that aside: It’s against nature. Nature’s law will ultimately trump man’s law…. I don’t think that my conscience, my belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, can possibly ever, ever allow me to see that differently. The oath that I took says that I’m to do this job to the best of my ability, so help me God.

But the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is the law of the land, right?

The powers that be have tried to redefine it, but you cannot redefine the Bible. If the federal government, state government, local government would be logical in their thinking, they really have no right to anything to do with marriage.

How did your office respond to the ruling?

Friday I was out of town, so we didn’t do anything until I came back in. On Monday we didn’t issue any marriage licenses.

Did couples apply? What did you tell them?

I had one person come in and ask about it, then there were some other folks who called to ask about it. They were all opposite-sex couples and they were all very supportive of this. They said, "We don’t mind the drive [to Casey County], stick to what you know is right."

We had same-sex couples call. They said I was going to do it or they were going to sue me. I said, "I’m sorry, but this is how it is, I apologize." They can go to another county. Getting a marriage license is not their entire goal. They want me to issue one.

I had a homosexual man saying he was coming here to get a marriage license and I said, 'Look man, I’m willing to drive you to another county.' That wasn’t what he wanted either: He wanted my name on it.

Do you usually issue a lot of marriage licenses?

We had 29 marriage licenses last year in Casey County. It’s not a rushing business here.

What have Kentucky officials told you to do?

I have pleaded with the governor since Monday to give me the same opportunity that he gave [Democratic Kentucky Atty. Gen.] Jack Conway a year ago. He has not even cared enough to reply. Maybe he doesn’t see the way that I’m being discriminated against, and all the other clerks that believe like I believe.

Jack Conway said, for the fact of his conscience, he could not defend Kentucky’s marriage law, so our own Gov. Steve Beshear hired private counsel to defend the law for him. Why is it that Jack Conway’s rights are any more important than Casey Davis’ and the other county clerks who feel the same way I do? I didn’t want this, I didn’t ask for this, I didn’t wake up saying I want to inject turmoil into my life and hear what a bigot I am every day.

How have people reacted to your position?

If you could see the emails, the threats. I did an interview with MSNBC last night and afterward, there was a post online saying the way to handle this was to take me out and hang me. I had one woman come in and call me a horse’s behind. She left real quick.

I wish that person had in my heart what I have in mine. We can live in this world together and disagree. But they need to recognize my rights same as I’m expected to recognize theirs. Why can’t people be sympathetic to both sides of this?

Have you been sued?

I don’t have any reason to sue anybody, and I hope they don’t sue me.

(On Thursday, another county clerk in Kentucky was sued. According to the Associated Press, the ACLU filed suit against Kim Davis of Rowan County after she decided to stop issuing marriage licenses — to gay or straight couples — because of her religious objections to same-sex marriage. The suit was filed on behalf of two straight couples and two gay couples, the AP reported.)

Why not resign?

When I ran for this job, I was passionate about it. When I was first elected, 3,017 people elected me.

My plea to the people who want me out and gone is this: Let democracy do what its designed to do. When the voters decide that a person is no longer fit for a job, they vote somebody else in. Don’t have the government force me out or send me to jail.

Are you willing to go to jail rather than issue same-sex marriage licenses?

I’m willing to give my life for it. There are millions of people in this country who died for my rights. If I don’t fight for it, those veterans died in vain. The threats I’m receiving won’t change my mind on this. If they died for me, I can live for them.

What’s going on in the nation is to me something I have to take care of here, and if I don’t take care of here, I can’t look my children in the eye anymore. We’re all in this together. I know there are clerks who feel just exactly like I do and they’re left not knowing what to do.

I have always given my children this advice: When you’re away from me and don’t know what to do, stand still. That is the best way for me to handle this at this time. There is a solution to this if there is a willingness.

When you contacted the governor, you proposed creating an online state system for issuing marriage licenses. Would that resolve the conflict for you and other clerks with religious objections?

That’s the most simple solution to this problem. Everything else is available online; why can’t marriage licenses be available online?

In the technological age we live in, that needs to be a choice. That would take it out of the hands of an individual and stop that problem. And to be clear, I don’t want online issuance of marriage licenses just for gay couples, I want it for everyone. Making a difference for one couple versus another, that’s not what I’m out to do.

Follow @mollyhf on Twitter.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

6:16 p.m.: This story was updated to report that Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis was sued by the ACLU because she had stopped issuing marriage licenses.

This story was originally published at 2:57 p.m.

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