LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear’s lawyers are using the words “absurd,” ”forlorn” and “obtuse” to describe the legal arguments a county clerk has used to avoid issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Rowan County clerk Kim Davis, who spent five days in jail for defying a series of federal court orders, filed a lawsuit against the governor, alleging he violated her religious freedom by asking clerks to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, which effectively legalized gay marriage across the nation. Beshear reiterated a request Tuesday that a judge toss the suit.
“Simply stated, Davis’ role is a legal one — not a moral or religious one,” Beshear’s attorneys wrote in the court document. The day the Supreme Court handed down its ruling, Beshear sent a letter to the state’s 120 county clerks explaining how the state intended to comply.
“Neither your oath nor the Supreme Court dictates what you must believe. But as elected officials, they do prescribe how we must act,” he wrote, and advised the clerks that the state’s marriage license template would be updated to remove “bride” and “groom.”
Davis complained that in doing so he “commandeered” county clerks’ offices and “usurped control of Kentucky marriage law.” Davis continued to refuse to license same-sex marriages. After four couples sued her, she ignored a series of federal court orders, continued turning couples away and spent five nights in jail for her defiance. She blames Beshear’s letter for her legal troubles.
Beshear’s lawyer, Palmer G. Vance, described Davis’ continued legal battle as a “meritless assault on the rule of law.” Even if Beshear had not instructed clerks to follow the law, the Supreme Court and subsequent court orders required her to do so, he wrote.
“At issue here are marriage licenses issued by the Office of Rowan County Clerk and not Kim Davis individually, as Kim Davis individually has no authority to issue such licenses,” he wrote. “The Office of Rowan County Clerk does not have a right to free exercise of religion.”
U.S. District Judge David Bunning is expected to rule soon on whether Davis’ lawsuit against Beshear can continue. Meanwhile, Davis’ deputies began issuing licenses while she was behind bars. The judge released her with strict instructions not to interfere. As soon as she got out, she altered the licenses, replacing her name and office with the phrase, “pursuant to federal court order.”
The couples who sued her then questioned the licenses’ validity and asked the judge to order her to reissue them. That request also is pending before Bunning.