How a county clerk is refusing to issue gay marriage licenses and defying the Supreme Court

Rowan, Ky., County Clerk Kim Davis last month.

Rowan, Ky., County Clerk Kim Davis last month.

(Timothy D. Easley / Associated Press)

A Kentucky county clerk has refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite a Supreme Court ruling in June that made same-sex marriage a constitutional right in all 50 states. A federal judge has ordered Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis to comply with the nation's highest court, but he has given her time to appeal his decision, much to the disappointment of the couples who sued her.

Here's what we know:

How can a county clerk defy a Supreme Court ruling?

Davis has stuck to her guns since June, when same-sex marriage became legal in a 5-4 decision by the nation's highest court. She argues that granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples would go against her Christian beliefs and violate her religious freedoms. Davis went so far as to say that the Rowan County clerk's office would not issue any marriage licenses, to either gay or straight couples. Two same-sex couples and two opposite-sex couples filed a suit against her.

Last week, Davis defied an order by U.S. District Judge David L. Bunning to comply with federal law. Davis requested a delay to petition the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. She says her position is not stopping couples from getting married since they can go to any of seven neighboring counties where licenses are being issued. But in his ruling, Bunning said couples should not have to obtain marriage licenses elsewhere.

On Tuesday, Bunning said he would delay his ruling to grant Davis time to file her petition. "Realizing that emotions are running high on both sides of the debate, the court finds it appropriate to temporarily stay this order," he said in his order.

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What is Davis arguing?

Davis says in a court document that she has the right to appeal the judge's order because although the Supreme Court decision legalizes same-sex marriage nationwide, she is "justified by the need to protect her own" rights. Her attorneys compare her to "other religious objectors, such as a nurse being forced to perform an abortion" or "a noncombatant ordered to fire on an enemy soldier," the Associated Press reported.

Davis is arguing that she and other Kentucky clerks should be excused from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples for religious reasons. According to court documents, Davis said she follows the Bible's teachings that marriage is only between a man and woman.

Davis' religious convictions cannot excuse her from performing the duties she took an oath to perform, Bunning said in his order. "While Davis is correct in stating that a violation of free exercise rights would constitute irreparable harm, she has failed to show that she is likely to suffer a violation of her free exercise rights in the first place," he wrote.

The plaintiffs are upset by the judge's decision to delay his ruling because no marriages can move forward in Rowan County until the issue is resolved.

What consequences could Davis face?

It is unclear when Davis' petition might be heard, but if she loses her appeal and still refuses to issue marriage licenses, she could face jail time for contempt of court. Her job would be on the line only if the Kentucky legislature voted to impeach her, the AP reported.

Have other clerks refused to issue marriage licenses?

Many jurisdictions were not happy with the Supreme Court's legalization of same-sex marriage. In the South, some counties are still trying to block gay marriage by, like Davis, refusing to issue marriage licenses to anyone.

Five days after the Supreme Court's ruling, 45 of Alabama's counties were issuing licenses to all, but a few were expected to go out of the license business altogether in an effort to avoid granting licenses to same-sex couples, The Times reported. Four county clerks in Kentucky were refusing to issue licenses to same-sex couples, and one in Louisiana was refusing, according to The Times' story. Tennessee was fully compliant, Mississippi had seven counties refusing, and Texas has 195 of the its 254 counties fully compliant or getting there.

On Monday, lawyers for a gay couple in Granbury, Texas, who were denied a license by Hood County Clerk Katie Lang in July, announced that a settlement had been reached. The attorneys for Jim Cato and Joe Stapleton said they settled the suit against Hood County for the cost in legal fees, almost $44,000.

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