Kentucky clerk sued for not issuing gay-marriage licenses

Erica Seagraves, right, has a discussion with Malinda Andrews on the steps of the Rowan County Judicial Center Tuesday, June 30, 2015, in Morehead, Ky. Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis is refusing to issue marriage licenses to all couples until further notice as an objection to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage. The high court effectively legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states in a 5-4 ruling Friday. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
Erica Seagraves, right, has a discussion with Malinda Andrews on the steps of the Rowan County Judicial Center Tuesday, June 30, 2015, in Morehead, Ky. Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis is refusing to issue marriage licenses to all couples until further notice as an objection to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage. The high court effectively legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states in a 5-4 ruling Friday. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) – Four Kentucky couples are suing a clerk who is refusing to issue gay-marriage licenses – or any marriage licenses at all – following the U.S. Supreme Court decision that same-sex couples have a legal right to marry.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky filed a federal lawsuit against Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis on Thursday afternoon on behalf of two homosexual and two heterosexual couples, all of whom were turned away when they tried to get marriage licenses from Davis’ office this week.

Davis has said that her Christian beliefs prevented her from complying with the Supreme Court decision, so she decided to issue no more marriage licenses to any couple, gay or straight. She could not be reached Thursday after the lawsuit was filed. Her office was already closed and she did not respond to an email.

She is among a handful of judges and clerks across the South who have defied the high court’s order, maintaining that the right to “religious freedom” protects them from having to comply.

In Tennessee on Thursday, the Decatur County clerk and two employees in the clerk’s office resigned due to their opposition to same-sex marriage, County Commissioner David Boroughs told The Jackson Sun.

In Alabama, however, one of the states where numerous clerks were refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, all counties appeared to be complying with the Supreme Court ruling as of Thursday, lawyers representing gay couples said.

In Louisiana, where most parish clerks had been issuing same-sex marriage licenses since Monday, the state Office of Vital Records, which issues the licenses in New Orleans, didn’t begin doing so until Thursday.

Immediately following the Supreme Court ruling last Friday, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear ordered all clerks to fall in line. Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway followed up with a warning that failing to do so might open them up to civil liability.

Officials have also warned that the defiant clerks could be risking criminal charges. Warren County Attorney Ann Milliken, president of the Kentucky County Attorneys Association, said clerks could be charged with official misconduct, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

Some Kentucky clerks who at first resisted issuing same-sex marriage licenses changed course this week and agreed to sign them. But a few, Davis included, stood firm, despite the dozens of protesters outside her office in Morehead earlier this week.

She pledged to never issue a marriage license to a gay couple.

“It’s a deep-rooted conviction; my conscience won’t allow me to do that,” Davis said Tuesday. “It goes against everything I hold dear, everything sacred in my life.”

The lawsuit, filed in United States District Court in Ashland, Kentucky, requests an injunction ordering Davis to begin issuing licenses. It alleges that her policy is unconstitutional and asks for punitive damages for violating the four couples’ rights.

April Miller and Karen Roberts, a couple for 11 years who live in Morehead, told The Associated Press that they asked for a license Tuesday and were told to try another county.

Another gay couple, L. Aaron Skaggs and Barry Spartman, called the Rowan County clerk’s office Tuesday and asked to apply for a license. An employee on the phone said, “Don’t bother coming down here,” according to the lawsuit, and told them the clerk was refusing to issue licenses.

Two opposite-sex couples also tried to get licenses and were told by staff that none would be issued, the lawsuit alleges.

The clerks have argued that if they issue a license to no one, they cannot be accused of discrimination. Kentucky state law allows adult couples seeking marriage licenses to get them from any county. If a marriage involves minors, however, they must get their license in the county where they live.

The four couples who filed suit say that because they live, work, vote and pay taxes in Rowan County, they have a right to file for a marriage license there.

In the lawsuit, ACLU legal director William Sharp wrote that Davis’ religious conviction “is not a compelling, important or legitimate government interest.”

One of the attorneys who filed the lawsuit, Laura Landenwich, wrote that Davis “has the absolute right to believe whatever she wants about God, faith, and religion, but as a government official who swore an oath to uphold the law, she cannot pick and choose who she is going to serve, or which duties her office will perform based on her religious beliefs.”

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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