Defying A Court Order, Kentucky Clerk Refuses To Issue Marriage Licenses To Gay Couples

A Clerk in Kentucky appears to be headed for a showdown with a Federal District Court Judge that she is destined to lose.


A Kentucky Clerk who was ordered by a Federal Judge to issue marriage license to same-sex couples is refusing to comply with the Court’s order:

MOREHEAD, Ky. — A county clerk here is apparently defying a federal court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Two same-sex couples seeking licenses left the Rowan County courthouse empty-handed Thursday morning.

The Rowan County clerk, Kim Davis, who says her Christian faith bars her from authorizing same-sex marriages, has refused to issue any licenses, either to same-sex or heterosexual couples, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in June granting a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

On Wednesday, Judge David L. Bunning of the Federal District Court of Eastern Kentucky, ruling in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of four couples — two same-sex and two heterosexual —ordered Ms. Davis to resume issuing licenses. But lawyers for Ms. Davis immediately appealed, and Thursday morning, Ms. Davis was not at work


In Kentucky, county clerks issue marriage licenses, which authorize others to “solemnize” the marriage. Ms. Davis, a member of an Apostolic Christian church who has said she attends “whenever the doors are open,” and ministers to female inmates at the local county jail, has testified in court that she cannot issue the licenses — or have her deputies do so — because her name is on them. She has said she is refusing to issue licenses to same-sex or heterosexual couples so as not to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

But Judge Bunning, in his 28-page ruling, rejected that argument.

“Davis remains free to practice her Apostolic Christian beliefs,” the judge wrote. “She may continue to attend church twice a week, participate in Bible Study and minister to female inmates at the Rowan County jail. She is even free to believe that marriage is a union between one man and one woman, as many Americans do. However, her religious convictions cannot excuse her from performing the duties that she took an oath to perform as Rowan County Clerk.”

This case is the same one that wrote about in early July in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges and the controversy that erupted at that point among certain people on the right. The issues that the Davis case raises, though, actually began arising long before the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. After the New York legislature legalized same-sex marriage in 2011, at least one town clerk refused to perform same-sex marriages, citing the same alleged “religious” objections that Davis raises in her case. Earlier this yer, in response to the fact that same-sex marriage had become legal there in the wake of the Supreme Court’s October 2014 denial of the state’s appeal, North Carolina’s legislature passed a law granting clerk’s the right to exempt themselves from providing licenses to same-sex couples if it conflicted with their religious beliefs. As I said at the time, that law is constitutionally suspect and that seems to be even more apparent in the wake of the ruling in Ms. Davis’s case. Giving government employees a special exemption from doing their job based on supposed religious beliefs, even if those beliefs are genuine, seems to be a clear violation of the Establishment Clause, but that will take a future legal proceeding to determine.

The issue came up again in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in June thanks in part to several Republican political leaders. For example, the Attorney General of Texas, backed up by Senator Ted Cruz, told clerks in Texas that they could ignore the Supreme Court’s ruling if they had religious objections to same-sex marriage. Attorney General Paxton’s advice, of course, has no legal merit whatsoever, and any Clerk in Texas who actually follows it is probably setting themselves up for the same kind of lawsuit we see in this case. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee made similar comments when he said that clerks should be excused from having to issue a license to a same-sex couple if they have a “conscientious objection.” Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, meanwhile, purported to reassure clerks in his state that they would not be forced to issue licenses if it conflicted with their religious beliefs. While one could easily dismiss these statements as an effort by two Presidential candidates to pander to the religious right, this case in Kentucky, along with similar instances of clerks refusing to issues licenses to same-sex couples in Alabama and Arkansas, in Mississippi, and even a Judge in Ohio who was recently told by the state’s judicial ethics board that he could not refuse to issue licenses to same-sex couples demonstrates that there are still efforts by some people out there to resist the law.

As for this particular case, the eventual outcome is as obvious as it was when I first wrote about this matter. Either Davis will comply with the Court’s order, or she will be in contempt, something which could result in both monetary fines and jail time and would likely result in her removal from office. Her other option, of course, would be to resign her position since she obviously is not willing to perform the duties the law requires of her or to treat the citizens that she works for with the equality demanded under the law. Any argument that this is an infringement of her religious liberties would be absurd. Davis is not performing a religious act when she issues a license to a couple that wishes to get married, she performing a clerical act required of a government employee. Either she is willing to do the job in the manner the law requires, or she isn’t. The choice is entirely hers.

Update: Here’s the opinion:

Miller v. Davis Opinion by Doug Mataconis

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    She gets her moment to strut and preen upon the stage. It’s all very exciting for her and the idiots who support her. I’m sure the other church ladies are wonderfully impressed by her virtue.

    And then she’ll lose and be defined for the rest of her life as a bargain-basement George Wallace.

  2. Argon says:

    Liberty Counsel is supporting her case. Given their track record with representing the crazies she should expect to pay hefty fines a d court expenses by herself once they lose and leave her high and dry.

  3. Ron Beasley says:

    This reminds me of the Bible thumper pharmacists who refused to issue prescriptions for birth control here in Oregon. They lost their licences to practice.

  4. grumpy realist says:

    The clerk in question also seems to be on her fourth–or is it fifth? marriage.

    Biblical rules for thee, but not for me. I hope the judge throws the book at her.

  5. Tony W says:

    @grumpy realist: Came here to say this. It’s amazing to me the people who suddenly have a religious objection at convenient times. Come to think of it, this reminds me of the Right’s sudden conversion to cutting government spending once Obama took office.

  6. Mark Ivey says:

    Michael Reynolds?

    Her GoFundMe page is standing by……

    :)) $$$

  7. Pete S says:

    It seems to me that more than an intolerant bigot using religious liberty as an excuse to get paid for not working, she is a self important jackass. She does not “authorize” marriages, she records them. She is a clerk.

  8. Gustopher says:

    I think the clear standard that should be required is that the job needs to get done — the marriage licenses need to be issued, with no extra nuisance or bother to the couples.

    Within that limitation, it’s reasonable to accommodate the strongly held moral beliefs of the workers, religious or otherwise (why shouldn’t agnostics and atheists get to pull the moral objection stunt?). I would put a clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses in the same category as a moslem clerk who refuses to ring up sales of alcohol — something you tolerate, so long as the job gets done.

    If the couples are having to sue, then it is clear that the job isn’t getting done, and someone needs to be fired.

  9. JohnMcC says:

    @Ron Beasley: I had not heard the outcome of that case. Hooray for OR and thank you, Mr B, for filling me in.

  10. JohnMcC says:

    @Mark Ivey: Pretty much my thoughts, sir. If she were to get the right business manager she could turn her victim-hood into a gold mine of blog posts, magazine articles, interviews on Fox & talk radio and personal appearances. If she doesn’t turn a profit from this it’s because she’s a fool.

  11. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Mark Ivey:

    No joy there. GuFundMe has updated its terms of service to disallow fund raising campaigns for which the funds are intended to be used for the purpose of:

    defense of formal charges or claims of heinous crimes, violent, hateful, sexual or discriminatory acts

    She’s out of luck there. Liberty Counsel is using her to push their agenda, and giving her exceedingly bad advice in furtherance of that purpose. Knowingly advising a client to pursue a course of action which exposes them to a federal contempt citation should be grounds for disbarment. She’s about to learn just how broad the power of federal courts to punish contemnors is …

  12. gVOR08 says:

    Just up on CNN.

    An appellate court on Thursday ruled against a Colorado bakery owner who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, rejecting among other things his denial that he discriminated against them because they are gay.

  13. CSK says:

    Sigh. I’m pleased to live in a state–the first one to legalize same sex marriage, actually–where no one cares about your private life as long as it doesn’t involve the commission of criminal acts or frightening the horses. Our Republican lieutenant governor officiated at the marriage of a Democratic state rep to his long time male partner. I don’t know whether the couple asked her to do it, and she accepted the invitation, or if she offered to perform the ceremony. Either way, it was good. And the pix of her and the couple at the wedding and reception were charming.

  14. al-Ameda says:

    @Pete S:

    It seems to me that more than an intolerant bigot using religious liberty as an excuse to get paid for not working, she is a self important jackass. She does not “authorize” marriages, she records them. She is a clerk.


    None of these people (people like her) are in any way denied the ability to worship or practice their faith as they please.

    How they came to twist all of this to, “I refuse to serve people whom my religion finds objectionable,” is beyond me.

  15. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @al-Ameda: Because it’s the only way to get their 15 minutes of fame? On a more serious note, the solution to her “faith dilemma” is to quit her job and trust that her God will make good on the promises He made in her Bible and reward her faithfulness. It’s really that simple, she should trust her God or admit that this is personal and has nothing to do with her “faith.”

  16. Rick DeMent says:

    But yet she continues to issues marriage licenses to people who were divorced? that right there should disqualify you for making any kind of religious beef out of this. I hope they start asking GOP candidates in the debates if they support laws making divorce illegal. They were actually dipping a toe in with the idea of “covenant marriages” which made it much harder to get a divorce. But that idea went down like a lead balloon.

    So here is my idea. Democrats start calling for l”covenant marriage” laws which stipulate that they are between a man and a woman only, but with no possibility of divorce. Then the fundies can have Jesus marriage just like he said it should be.

  17. Jack says:

    @michael reynolds: It’s funny, apropo you should compare her to George Wallace (D). Because according to AP: “Davis, elected last November as a Democrat, took over the office from her mother, Jean Bailey, who served as county clerk for 37 years, according to the Morehead News.”

  18. OzarkHillbilly says:


    I would put a clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses in the same category as a moslem clerk who refuses to ring up sales of alcohol — something you tolerate, so long as the job gets done.

    Sorry, this is America. The Muslim clerk who refuses to ring up alcohol would get fired for not doing their job. And rightly so. So should this women. Nobody has a religious right to be a County clerk.

  19. Jack says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: NEWS FLASH: Muslims cab drivers repeatedly refuse to take on a fare who simply carries alcohol. Muslim cabbies have also refused to drive blind people with seeing eye dogs. Muslim grocery store clerks have refused to touch pork products, one is even suing Costco for transferring him to a different position. A Muslim owned company in Dearborn, Michigan has forced all women, regardless of their religion, to wear head scarves during their employ.

    “My boss came in last Tuesday with a Koran in his hand and told us we were dressed like harlots,” says Karen Anderson, 28, a five year veteran of the company. “He gave us each a hijab and said if we didn’t wear it we’d be unemployed.”

    The owner El-Helani also says he plans on cutting off his employees’ hands if he catches them stealing, in accordance with Islamic law.

    Where are the law suits? Where are the investigations by the EEOC and DOJ?

    Well, you can answer that for yourself. These are Muslims, and next to illegal Mexicans, they are the Democrat’s favorite new voting block.

  20. Concern Trolls Getting Dumber says:


    “My boss came in last Tuesday with a Koran in his hand and told us we were dressed like harlots,” says Karen Anderson, 28, a five year veteran of the company. “He gave us each a hijab and said if we didn’t wear it we’d be unemployed.”

    Doing a quick Google search, I see that “story” comes from the Daily Currant, a parody paper like The Onion. It’s a joke, you moron.

  21. Tony W says:

    She needs to be summarily fired, her career buried with a shovel, then the shovel buried alongside. She can exercise her irrational hate on her own time.

  22. Jack says:

    @Concern Trolls Getting Dumber: So, I’m not up on which publications are parodies. Fortunately, the rest of what I wrote was not sourced from the Daily Currant. So, please continue to debunk, or not.

    No? That’s what I thought.

  23. Lynn Eggers says:

    @Jack: “Muslim cabbies have also refused to drive blind people with seeing eye dogs.” “Muslims cab drivers repeatedly refuse to take on a fare who simply carries alcohol.”

    There are only three of your claims which are not from the Daily Current. These two both happened in Minneapolis (my hometown) and both date back nearly 10 years. There was quite a fuss locally, but the issue was quickly resolved with fines and the threat of firing.

    IOW, this was handled the way the clerk should be handled — do your job or lose it.

  24. Jack says:

    @Lynn Eggers: I only made four claims, so that means 1 claim was from the daily currant. I agree that the latest taxi example was 2007 or 2009. I had not seen a follow-up report. As this is your hometown, then I will take your word for it. However, the Costco example was from 2015.

  25. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Jack: Anyone can file a lawsuit for pretty much any reason. Filing a lawsuit, filing a lawsuit found to have merit, and winning a lawsuit are all separate things.

    Has this Costco lawsuit gone anywhere?

  26. gVOR08 says:

    How’s this for a plan, @Jack: ? Three of your four claims were dubunked within 35 minutes. On your fourth claim, Costco, how about you come up with links to credible sources for both the story, and the outcome of the suit if there really was one. Until then, I’ll suggest that the rest of us ignore you.

  27. Concern Trolls Getting Dumber says:


    So, I’m not up on which publications are parodies.

    Um… Let me clue you in on a few things:

    1. The essence of parodies is that they are ridiculous. If you can’t tell a parody from a real story, that shows you have a complete detachment from reality. I recognized it as parody from the get-go; why couldn’t you?

    2. Anyone with an ounce of credibility checks their sources. Why should anyone take you see seriously if you believe anything you read on the Internet?

    What’s especially hilarious is that I know you’re going to continue asserting how dumb liberals supposedly are.

  28. Jack says:

    @gVOR08: What’s your definition of credible? NPR? CNN? USA Today?

  29. Jack says:

    @Concern Trolls Getting Dumber: I never claimed liberals are dumb. There are some very smart liberals. It’s simply that most liberals have their heads so far up their asses they can’t tell which direction is North.

  30. wr says:

    @Jack: ” So, I’m not up on which publications are parodies.”

    So basically you’re saying that you are both too lazy and too stupid to figure out whether what you are quoting as fact even claims to be true, but you think people should take your arguments seriously anyway.

    Funny, there was a time I thought you were a troll, but it’s clear now you’re not smart enough for that.

  31. Concern Trolls Getting Dumber says:

    It’s simply that most liberals have their heads so far up their asses they can’t tell which direction is North.

    And one of the major problems I have with conservatives is that the vast majority of them, in my experience, are just like you. They’ve got serious defects in their critical-thinking skills. It was something I first noticed as a teenager in the ’90s, when Republican friends of my parents would believe anything they heard on Rush Limbaugh, even when it was something he took right out of his a$$ (which was a good deal of the time). It took me a long time till I found conservatives I could respect, like the hosts of this site. This isn’t because I have some prejudice against people with conservative opinions. Far from it. I can’t stand Milton Friedman’s views, for example, but I know he was brilliant and that if he were to materialize in front of me he would almost certainly beat me in a debate on monetary policy.

    Most conservatives, alas, aren’t like Friedman. They’re the types of people who fall for get-rich schemes and email chain hoaxes. When people ask me why I’m a liberal I usually talk about my basic principles and values, and my policy positions such as my belief in universal health care. But if I’m honest with myself, I can’t think of a more powerful reason than the fact that most conservatives have no credibility whatsoever, meaning I don’t just disagree with them, I can’t even take them seriously.

  32. gVOR08 says:


    What’s your definition of credible? NPR? CNN? USA Today?

    You got a link from any of them?

  33. grumpy realist says:

    @Jack: Well, because you didn’t check your sources, you have officially put yourself in the same class as the Taliban, which managed to collect an article called “How to Build an Atom Bomb” for their library.

    Problem was, it was from the Journal of Irreproducible Results.

    As said, DUMB.

  34. slimslowslider says:


  35. gVOR08 says:

    @Concern Trolls Getting Dumber: When I’m feeling philosophical I attribute it to deontology versus consequentialism. They view the world in terms of morality and faith and you look at causality. For us, the current deficit is largely due to Bush tax cuts, wars, and the Great Recession; but for them it’s Obama. In discussion, it’s like we’re speaking Greek and they’re speaking Spanish. No communication. Not looking at causality seems to leave them with no functioning bullshit detectors.

    That’s why Haidt finds that conservatives “understand” liberals better than the reverse. Simple morality is the default, but they can do logic and causation. Very hard for us to recreate their faith from scratch.

  36. Concern Trolls Getting Dumber says:


    They view the world in terms of morality and faith and you look at causality.

    The thing is, I don’t see those as mutually exclusive. Morality and faith are very important to me. First, I am a religious person. Second, I think most political issues are at bottom moral issues. The subject of this post is a perfect example. I support same-sex marriage because I think it is morally right to allow gays to marry who they love, which springs from my basic moral belief that people should be allowed to pursue their own happiness as long as it doesn’t hurt others. (That’s also why I don’t support “marriage” between people and animals or between adults and children–because those activities involve harming others.) Opponents think it is morally wrong to allow gays to marry because they say it undermines the traditional family, the bedrock unit of society. And they argue, further, that it is immoral to deny religious people the right to their beliefs by making them participate in something they morally oppose. As a religious person, I care deeply about the rights of religious people not to be denied employment because of their beliefs. But I don’t think their beliefs override the rights of others to be treated equitably and fairly.

    So it is, ultimately, about morality. It’s just that the importance of morality does not exempt people from being bound by evidence and facts. And I don’t see why that should be a “liberal” or “conservative” consideration. In practice, though, sadly it is.

  37. Ken in NJ says:

    @Jack: Seriously, dude?

    25% of your examples originated on a FAKE NEWS SITE. An additional 50% of your examples are almost a decade old, and were resolved in a way that they are actually evidence AGAINST your point.

    And you seriously have some kind of expectation that people should continue to address every single one of your examples? the Gish Gallop isn’t new, and it’s just as dishonest a discussion tactic now as it was thirty years ago on Talk.Origins

  38. gVOR08 says:

    @Concern Trolls Getting Dumber: Thanks for replying. I find going a little meta is way more fun than trying to, as @Ken in NJ: says, rebut the Gish gallop point by point by point by point…

    This stuff isn’t remotely my field, but yes, it is ultimately all about morality. If it’s all about the greatest good, what does greatest good mean? I believe philosophy types can really wrap themselves in knots over that. In the real world it seems to me not much of a problem. Why do I support Obamacare (even though I’m on Medicare and it means nothing to me personally)? Because many more people will have decent health insurance, and at an acceptable cost. I see no need to go beyond that and get into why it’s good that people have health insurance. Seems obvious. Which is why we don’t talk about the ultimate morality much, although, as you say, it’s always there in the end.

    And I mean no imputation of religion. When I used “faith” above, I’m trying to use it to describe a way of looking at the world, that you believe what you believe because you believe it. I’ll use as an example a Ross Douthat column that stuck in my mind, but from too long ago for me to go looking for a link. He was all upset that people aren’t get married, that they’re comfortable “living in sin”. Both his Catholic Faith and the culture he was raised in left him believing as a matter of small f faith that marriage is a moral end in itself. He seemed completely blind to any utilitarian formulation that humans are driven to sex, if you have sex you will have children, the children must be cared for, therefore marriage is good. And that with modern birth control the sex=children link is broken.

    I believe in democracy everybody who wants to should vote. I believe war is bad because it blows stuff up and kills people. I believe women who don’t want to bear and raise a child shouldn’t be forced to. I believe a wealthy society should help their poor. I don’t feel a need to worry much about why I believe these things. So at the end, yes, there’s faith.

  39. Grewgills says:


    It’s simply that most liberals have their heads so far up their asses they can’t tell which direction is North.

    says the man who just quoted a parody as gospel truth and two cases that run counter to his point. Do you have any sense of irony at all?

  40. humanoid.panda says:

    You might think that Jack’s meltdown on this thread is funny, but in fact this thread is a powerful exposition of the political strength of movement conservatism.

    Think about this: anyone with a modicum of self-awareness who was de-pantsed as thoroughly as Jack was here would either crawl away to lick his wounds, or even, god forbid, apologize and reconsider and maybe laugh at himself. Jack, however demands that we libtards address his single claim that wasn’t refuted, and screams that we have our heads in our asses. If the same topic comes up tomorrow, he will no doubt make the same claims about liberals mollycoddling Muslims and immigrants (but maybe without the Daily Currant story).

    In a similar way, the GOP came close to burning the country to the ground, refused to apologize or reconsider or function as loyal opposition party in a Madisonian system ,but double down on insanity and belligerence- and won in 2010.

    Today, it faces a mound of failed predictions of catastrophe on anything from the stimulus trigerring mass inflation to Mexicans bringing ebola here- and has a majority in both Houses.

    Yates had it right: “the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.”-

  41. gVOR08 says:

    @humanoid.panda: Given that their political program consists of nothing but boosting the .01% at the expense of everyone else, what can they do except foment and appeal to irrationality?

  42. Concern Trolls Getting Dumber says:

    @gVOR08: There are many issues that I find difficult and complicated, and where I can understand where both (or more) sides are coming from. Abortion is one such issue. Same-sex marriage isn’t. As Jon Chait put it, the opponents lost because they had “no arguments.” It really was amazing to listen to them, and I always had the subtle feeling that they knew deep down they were wrong and were engaged in some level of self-deception. This was especially noticeable when it came from intellectuals like Ross Douthat, who understands that gays are normal people in loving, committed relationships, and yet still opposes what they do.

    As for Obamacare, there is a valid conservative and libertarian case to made against universal health care. The problem is that most people would find such a conclusion appallingly harsh, and the GOP politicians know that, which is why they never explain outright that under their plans some people will be left without coverage or even lose the coverage they did have. Instead they engage in word salad, making sure to throw in terms like “patient-centered” and “tax credits” like magical incantations.

    And that brings me to a larger point, which is that there is something fundamentally amoral lurking at the core of economic conservatism, and it is something that conservatives deal with largely through cognitive dissonance. And it creates what has always been a certain tension with the religious conservatism that also dominates today’s GOP.

    It’s striking because historically one of the biggest obstacles to the emergence of capitalism in the West was the Church. It took a long time before Christianity made peace with the idea of free markets, and there was a definite religious dimension, even fundamentalist, to the Progressive movement of the early 20th century. Many people today find it odd that a figure like William Jennings Bryan ended his career defending creationism at the Scopes Trial, but at the time it wasn’t a contradiction; indeed, part of Bryan’s resistance to evolution sprang from his hatred for the Social Darwinism underlying laissez faire capitalism.

    Nowadays, though, you have Republican politicians claiming the mantle of religion, pushing for intelligent design in the schools, and in the next breath praising Ayn Rand as a modern prophet. I’m always expecting conservative heads to just collapse under the weight of the contradictions, but the strange thing is that rank-and-file righties like Jack here don’t seem bothered by it in the slightest, and they carry themselves with this smug certainty as if a doubt never creeped into their tiny brains for a microsecond.

  43. JohnMcC says:

    @Concern Trolls Getting Dumber: One of the best things about the Trump campaign is that he is not telling he is doing all this because Jesus.

  44. grumpy realist says:

    @Concern Trolls Getting Dumber: And then there are people like Rod Dreher, for whom the world started going downhill with people like Duns Scotus and the development of Nominalism.

    The fact that if Nominalism had not developed we would probably not have our modern technological society is something that he firmly closes his eyes to.