ASHLAND, Ky. — A county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples was found in contempt of court Thursday and taken into custody.
“The idea of natural law superceding this court’s authority would be a dangerous precedent indeed,” U.S. District Judge David L. Bunning told Rowan County clerk Kim Davis.
“Thank you, judge,” she replied before being removed from the courtroom by U.S. marshals.
Davis, an Apostolic Christian, had said it would violate her faith to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and had directed her office to withhold marriage licenses to anyone, gay or straight. She was sued by four gay couples who had been denied licenses, and was ordered by Bunning last month to begin issuing the licenses this week.
But Davis refused, citing her religious beliefs. Attorneys for the four couples had not asked for jail time, but Bunning took more drastic action.
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.
The two factions were on vivid display outside the Carl D. Perkins Federal Building, where dozens of protesters had already gathered on the front sidewalk by 9 a.m. Most appeared to be backers of Davis, some of whom had come from as far as Oklahoma to show their support. They waved flags bearing a cross and the word “Liberty.”
One demonstrator pointed his bullhorn toward the smaller contingent of gay rights supporters who had also gathered outside. “Hell is waiting for you,” he intoned. “The only answer is Jesus Christ to stop you from being a homosexual, stop you from being a lesbian.”
Elsewhere in Kentucky, politicians scrambled in an effort to defuse the situation. Earlier in the week, Republican and Democratic leaders in Frankfort reiterated calls for a compromise that would allow gay couples to get marriage licenses in Rowan County without forcing Davis to violate her faith. In a court motion, Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers asked Bunning not to hold Davis in contempt until the legislature could address confusion in state law resulting from the legalization of same-sex marriage.
The legislature is not slated to convene until next year, however, and Gov. Steve Beshear (D) has resisted calls to hold a special session to address the issue.
Davis has received some high-profile support from national political figures. On Wednesday, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who is running for president, said in a statement that he had called Davis to “offer my prayers and support.”
“I let her know how proud I am of am of her for not abandoning her religious convictions and standing strong for religious liberty,” Huckabee said in the statement. “She is showing more courage and humility than just about any federal office holder in Washington.”
But she has been a target of searing criticism from same-sex marriage advocates. Some have called for criminal charges to be filed against Davis. She has been mocked for her own troubled marital history, including three divorces before her religious conversion four years ago.
Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, a gay rights group based in Louisville, said her situation has cast an ugly light on his state.
“Folks like Kim Davis are creating a perception that will engender a stereotype that Kentuckians aren’t loving and don’t treat people with respect,” he said. “It’s not true.”
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.
Somashekhar reported from Washington.