Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, a longtime Democrat, said she is switching to the Republican Party because she feels abandoned by Democrats in her fight against same-sex marriage.
Davis made the announcement while in Washington to attend the Family Research Council's Value Voters Summit, said Charla Bansley, a spokeswoman for Liberty Counsel, which represents Davis in her legal battles.
"I've always been a Democrat, but the party left me," Davis said, according to Bansley.
Davis sparked a national firestorm by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in June. Davis was ordered by a federal judge to issue the licenses but refused and spent five days in jail for continuing to defy the order, propelling her to folk-hero status among some on the religious right.
Republicans, not Democrats, came to Davis' defense.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist preacher running for president who is trailing badly in the polls, visited Davis in jail and held a religious freedom rally on the jailhouse lawn. Another presidential candidate, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, also traveled to Kentucky to bask in Davis' defiance.
A judge ultimately freed Davis on the condition she not interfere with her deputies issuing the licenses. But her legal woes persist: On the day she returned to the office, Davis altered the license forms to delete her name and her office, which she replaced with the line "pursuant to federal court order."
The American Civil Liberties Union, which sued her on behalf of the couples she turned away, questioned the validity of the licenses and asked the judge to order her to reissue them or consider punishing her again.
Davis was elected Rowan County clerk last fall as a Democrat. She replaced her mother, a Democrat who served as county clerk for 37 years.
Democrats make up 65% of the county's 14,000 registered voters, but Davis' switch is not a surprise because many Kentucky Democrats still represent the party of decades ago, which was long dominated by rural whites with conservative values. But the state's Democrats have grown frustrated with the national party's shift on social and environmental issues, embracing gay marriage and abortion rights while acknowledging climate change and supporting new emission standards for coal-fired power plants.
Registered Democrats still outnumber registered Republicans in Kentucky. But since 2008, when Barack Obama was elected president, Republicans have added 183,635 registered voters in Kentucky; Democrats have added 23,957 during the same time period.
Though the governor and five of Kentucky's six statewide elected officers are Democrats, all but one of the state's congressional delegation are Republicans. A Democratic presidential candidate has not won the state since Bill Clinton in 1996. The Kentucky state Senate is dominated by Republicans, and Democrats are clinging to an eight-seat majority in the House of Representatives.
Davis blames her legal problems on Gov. Steve Beshear, who refused to call the state Legislature for a special session, where lawmakers could hammer out a way to exempt religious clerks from issuing the licenses. The governor instead told defiant clerks to either issue the licenses or resign.
Davis, who made the rounds this week on television news programs to defend her actions and tout her religious conviction, was invited to the event hosted by the Family Research Council, a conservative lobbying group, along with other "Christians who have been targeted for their religious beliefs on natural marriage."