A county clerk in Kentucky who has repeatedly refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples has been jailed after a federal judge held her in contempt of court.
A county clerk who refused on religious grounds to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples was found in contempt of court Thursday and taken into federal custody.
U.S. District Judge David L. Bunning had given Rowan County clerk Kim Davis the chance to stay out of jail if she “purged her contempt” by allowing one of her deputies to sign marriage licenses in her place. But through an attorney, Davis told the judge that “she does not grant her authority nor would allow any employee to issue those licenses.”
Davis’s decision means the 49-year-old elected public servant will be kept in custody indefinitely as the legal wrangling over her case continues. It also suggests she is willing to martyr herself for her cause, which is the right of public officials to be guided by their personal religious beliefs.
The Kentucky clerk drew headlines for refusing to issue marriage licenses to all couples, gay and straight, after the Supreme Court ruled earlier this summer that same-sex couples have the right to marry. An Apostolic Christian, Davis has said it would violate her faith to put her name on a marriage license for two people of the same sex.
She was sued by several gay couples and was ordered by Bunning to begin issuing the licenses this week. When Davis defied the judge’s order, the couples asked for Davis to be held in contempt and fined.
But Bunning decided to jail Davis, saying fines would not be sufficient to compel compliance because Davis’s supporters could raise money on her behalf.
“The idea of natural law superceding this court’s authority would be a dangerous precedent indeed,” Bunning said.
“Thank you, judge,” Davis replied before being removed from the courtroom.
Davis’s case has grabbed the national spotlight, with her supporters calling her stand an act of courage in the face of government intrusion on free exercise of religion and gay rights supporters describing it as a desperate last gasp in the wake of the Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage nationally.
For her part, Davis does not appear eager to be slapped with legal sanctions. In a court filing Wednesday, she asked Bunning not to hold her in contempt, arguing that doing so would violate her rights to due process and religious freedom.