Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis avoided a return trip to a Kentucky jail on Monday by standing aside while her deputy issued a newly altered marriage license to a lesbian couple.
Davis, who was incarcerated after refusing to heed a judge's order to grant licenses to same-sex couples, said she faced a seemingly impossible choice between adhering to her religious beliefs and carrying out the responsibilities of her elected office. Upon her return to work Monday, a trembling Davis explained that she had found a third alternative that did not violate her faith.
The licenses have been changed to remove Davis' name, and a line was added saying it was being issued pursuant to a federal court order.
"I spent six days in jail because I could not abandon my faith," Davis said. She said that the new licenses were "unauthorized" by her and that deputy clerks would issue documents "that will not have my name, my title or my authority on it."
The changes mean that Davis and her supporters could say she has upheld her religious beliefs by not becoming involved in issuing the licenses, while complying with the judge's ruling that Rowan County grant marriage licenses to all couples, straight or gay.
"The license that went out today does not violate Kim Davis' conscience," her lawyer Harry Mihet said at a news conference. "If it's satisfactory to the … court, then I think we will have found that win-win solution that we have been asking for all along."
Davis repeated her call for the state of Kentucky to take over issuing marriage licenses from the counties. Such a move would require an act of the Legislature, which is in recess until next year.
Although Davis has questioned the validity of the licenses issued by her office while she was in jail, Gov. Steve Beshear and a representative of Atty. Gen. Jack Conway said all of the altered marriage licenses — those issued last week and the one issued Monday — were legal.
Davis stopped issuing all marriage licenses the day after the U.S. Supreme Court in June held that same-sex couples had a constitutional right to marry. An Apostolic Christian, Davis said her religious beliefs prevented her from giving a marriage license to gays. She said "God's authority" gave her the responsibility to defy the courts.
Two gay and two straight couples sued Davis, who lost at the district and appellate court levels. The Supreme Court refused to hear her appeal.
Those decisions set up her appearance on Sept. 3 before District Judge David L. Bunning, who found her in contempt. He could have fined Davis but chose to jail her until she was willing to comply with his order.
On Sept. 8, the judge lifted the contempt finding and released Davis after he found that her deputies had complied with his order by issuing the licenses. But Bunning also warned Davis that she would be returned to a cell if she interfered with the deputies.
Davis — who has become a heroine to many fundamentalist Christians and some Republican presidential aspirants courting evangelical voters — on Monday read from a handwritten statement saying she remained committed to her religious beliefs but would not interfere.
"I don't want to have this conflict. I don't want to be in the spotlight. And I certainly don't want to be a whipping post," Davis said in her televised remarks. "I am no hero. I'm just a person that's been transformed by the grace of God, who wants to work, be with my family. I just want to serve my neighbors quietly without violating my conscience."
Soon after she read her statement, Shannon Wampler and Carmen Collins entered the office in Morehead, Ky., for a marriage license. The couple were escorted by supporters through a crowd of protesters and reporters outside and within the office.
"Come on, clerks, don't sign that license," a person was heard saying in video from the scene. Davis' days in jail should not "be in vain."
"Love has won," marriage equality supporters shouted back.
The couple approached Deputy Clerk Brian Mason, who was sitting behind a sign that read "Marriage license deputy." He appeared calm and used a computer while the couple stood in front of him as he issued the license — moments captured by television cameras.
"It's a little crazy," Mason said of the several dozen video cameras trained on him. "But I try not to let it bother me."
Still pending is a series of lawsuits brought by Davis' lawyers seeking to overturn the contempt order and to get the state to make changes in the marriage license law. Her lawyers said they would pursue those cases.
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