Judge: Gay marriage license denials violated rights

A federal judge has ruled that a former Kentucky court clerk violated the constitutional rights of two same-sex couples who were among those she would not issue marriage licenses to – a denial that has drawn international and public attention. was briefly thrown in jail in 2015.

U.S. District Judge David Bunning in Ashland issued the ruling Friday in two longstanding lawsuits involving former Rowan County clerk Kim Davis and two same-sex couples who sued her. With the decision, a jury trial will still have to take place to decide what damages the couples may be owed.

Bunning opined that Davis “cannot use his own constitutional rights as a shield to violate the constitutional rights of others in the performance of his elected duties.”

“Obergefell obviously recognizes the fourteenth amendment plaintiffs’ right to marry,” the judge wrote, referring to Obergefell’s landmark same-sex marriage ruling. “It is also evident that Davis made a conscious decision to violate plaintiffs’ rights.”

Shortly after the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in which same-sex couples won the right to marry nationwide, Davis, a Christian who has a religious objection to same-sex marriage, stopped issuing all marriage licenses.

This led to a lawsuit against her, and a judge ordered Davis to issue the licenses. She was sued by gay and straight couples and spent five days in jail for her refusal.

She was only released after her staff issued the licenses on her behalf, but removed her name from the form. The state legislature then passed a law removing the names of all county clerks from state marriage licenses.

Davis, a Republican, ultimately lost her re-election bid in 2018. Democrat Elwood Caudill Jr. is now the county clerk.

Davis had argued that a legal doctrine called qualified immunity protected her from being sued for damages by couples David Ermold and David Moore as well as James Yates and Will Smith. The United States Supreme Court in October 2020 left in place a ruling that allowed the trial to proceed, declining to take the case.

Michael Gartland, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, told WKYT-TV “they couldn’t be happier that they’re finally going to have their day in court and they’re confident justice will be served.”

Liberty Counsel, the law firm that represents Davis, said the case could go back to the Supreme Court.

The group pointed to comments about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ 2020 decision, when he wrote for himself and Justice Samuel Alito.

Thomas wrote that while he agreed with the decision not to hear Davis’ case regarding immunity claims in 2020, it was a “stark reminder of the consequences” of the court’s 2015 ruling in the same-sex marriage case.

Because of this case, he wrote, “those with sincere religious beliefs regarding marriage will find it increasingly difficult to participate in society without violating ‘the case’ and its effect on others. anti-discrimination laws”.

“Kim Davis is entitled to the protection of accommodation based on her sincere religious belief,” said Mat Staver, founder and president of Liberty Counsel. “This case raises serious claims of free exercise of religion under the First Amendment and has strong potential to reach the Supreme Court.”

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