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Kim Davis, Kentucky clerk who opposes gay marriage, met Pope Francis on his U.S. visit

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

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

(Timothy D. Easley / Associated Press)

The Kentucky official who defied the U.S. Supreme Court over same-sex marriage secretly met with Pope Francis during his U.S. visit, her attorneys say in a statement.

Kim Davis, the Rowan County clerk, spent six days in jail for contempt of court this month. She had refused to issue any marriage licenses after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that it was unconstitutional to exclude same-sex couples from marrying.

Four couples -- two gay and two straight -- sued her. U.S. District Judge David L. Bunning ordered her to issue the licenses and jailed her when she refused. Her deputy clerks have begun to issue them, however.

The law firm that represents Davis, Liberty Counsel, said in a statement Tuesday that Francis met privately with Davis and her husband, Joe Davis, at the Vatican Embassy in Washington on Thursday.

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“Thank you for your courage,” Liberty Counsel quoted the pope as saying. “Stay strong.”

The statement said the pope gave her and her husband each a rosary “that he personally blessed.”

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“I was humbled to meet Pope Francis,” Davis said in the statement. “Of all people, why me? ... I am just a county clerk who loves Jesus and desires with all my heart to serve him.”

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The secret meeting was also reported by journalist Robert Moynihan, editor of Inside the Vatican magazine, in his newsletter.

Davis, an Apostolic Christian, says her religious beliefs prevent her from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. “God’s authority” gives her the right to defy the courts, she says.

A Vatican spokesman Wednesday would neither confirm nor deny the encounter. As a general rule, the Vatican does not comment on the pope’s private meetings.

However, on his flight back to Rome from the U.S., Francis told reporters aboard the papal plane that conscientious objection was a basic human right, and that “if a government official is a human person, he has that right.”

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“I can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscience objection,” the pope said, according to an unofficial English translation of his remarks. But “it is a right, and if we want to make peace, we have to respect all rights.”

Davis’ critics say she should resign if she cannot perform the duties of her office. She has refused. Instead, she wants the state of Kentucky to issue marriage licenses rather than the counties. That would require an act of the Legislature, which is in recess until next year.

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During her time behind bars, her deputies began to issue marriage licenses. When released, she did not stop them but altered Rowan County marriage license forms to remove her name and add a line saying it was being issued pursuant to a federal court order.

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Davis has become a heroine to many fundamentalist Christians and some Republican presidential aspirants. She recently changed her party affiliation from Democrat to Republican.

Special correspondent Tom Kington in Rome and Times staff writer Henry Chu in London contributed to this report.

Follow @latimesmuskal and @conniestewartLA for national news

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