On June 26, 2015, a few hours after the United States Supreme Court made its legendary decision to legalize same-sex marriage, many marriage clerk offices in Alabama, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Kentucky, better known as the “Bible Belt states,” closed their doors and refused to issue any marriage licenses. These officials held that their own religious beliefs would not permit them to issues licenses to same-sex couples, regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the subject. Some clerks in these states even resigned from their posts.
No clerk has received more notoriety from this controversy than Kim Davis of Rowan County, Kentucky. Ms. Davis stopped issuing licenses a few days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, citing her Christian convictions against same-sex marriage. As a result, Ms. Davis was sued by two gay couples, as well as, two heterosexual couples, for failure to perform her professional duties and issue them marriage licenses. Another couple who was turned away from her office filed a complaint with the Rowan County District Attorney, requesting she be charged with an official misconduct offense. This offense, which is a misdemeanor, could result in her serving up to one year in jail. The District Attorney has since transferred the request to the Kentucky Attorney General’s office.
Throughout her prosecutions, Ms. Davis has asserted her religious convictions and requested “asylum for her conscience.” A federal judge issued an order denying such asylum and directed her to resume her duties and issue marriage licenses. An appeals court upheld that decision. Ms. Davis filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, who on August 31, 2015, ruled against her and ordered her to resume issuing licenses.
On Tuesday, September 1, 2015, the first day following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling against her, Ms. Davis reported to her office and denied the issuance of a marriage license to the first same-sex couple to request one. When they said they would not leave her office without receiving a license, she was reported to say “you are going to have a long day.”
On Thursday, September 3, 2015, U.S. District Judge David Bunning informed Ms. Davis that she would be jailed until she complied with previous orders to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Her only response to this directive was “thank you” before being lead of the courtroom by a U.S. marshal.
As I remember from my Constitution Law days, a person’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness ends when they begin to infringe on someone else’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As the United States Supreme Court has held that same-sex couples have the right to marry, Ms. Davis cannot invoke her own religious beliefs and use it to supersede a same-sex couple’s right to be issued a marriage license. She does not get to “pick and choose” who is worthy of the bond of marriage. Since she cannot issue licenses to same-sex couples for her own religious reasons and will not permit another individual in her office that does not hold these same objections to issue licenses, she cannot uphold the duties of her office, and must step down.
Cara A. Boyanowski concentrates her practice in the field of domestic law and wills and estates. As a domestic law practitioner, she represents clients in simple and complex divorce, support, custody, alimony, step-parent adoptions, name change and same-sex divorce and custody matters. She works out of Obermayer’s Harrisburg, PA office and can be reached at 717-234-5315 or at Cara.Boyanowski@obermayer.com.