By Steve Bittenbender
A two-month legal fight over a Kentucky county clerk’s refusal to issue marriage licenses to gay couples turns on Friday to whether her deputy clerks will defy her orders or those of a federal judge who ordered her jailed for contempt.
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis closed her office on Thursday while she and her staff appeared before US District Judge David Bunning over her refusal to issue any marriage licenses under an office policy she created after the US Supreme Court in June made gay marriage legal across the United States.
The office is due to reopen on Friday without Davis, 49, who has cited her beliefs as an Apostolic Christian for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. She has become a darling of social conservatives with her defiance of the court order.
Bunning ordered Davis jailed on Thursday, saying he did not think a fine would be effective. He also elicited a pledge from five of Davis’s six deputy clerks that they would issue licenses in her absence, telling them they would face a return to the U.S. District Court in Ashland, Kentucky, if they did not.
Some reluctantly agreed, saying they were balancing personal convictions and family responsibilities, and faith.
“I’m a preacher’s daughter,” deputy clerk Melissa Thompson said. “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
The sixth deputy clerk, Davis’s son Nathan, would not agree to issue licenses, but he was not jailed.
After the deputy clerks pledged to issue licenses, Davis told her attorneys she would deny them that authority, raising questions about the validity of any licenses the deputy clerks might issue.
Davis was being held at a county detention center.
The hearings on Thursday followed months of legal wrangling that has drawn global attention and protests from supporters and opponents of gay marriage. About 200 protesters gathered outside the courthouse.
The judge’s contempt order received support from White House spokesman Josh Earnest and Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, a Democrat, among others. Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and other Davis supporters criticized the decision.
Christian lobbying group Family Research Council said religious freedom in the United States was under attack.
Beshear has said a special legislative session was unnecessary and too costly and he had no authority to relieve county clerks of their statutory duties by executive order.