A federal judge in Kentucky ordered a county clerk to jail for contempt of court Thursday after she refused an order to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis defied a U.S. Supreme Court order to sign the marriage permits, saying that to do so would violate her religious beliefs.
Davis occasionally sobbed as she told the judge that "God's moral law conflicts with my job duties. You can't be separated from something that's in your heart and in your soul."
But Judge David Bunning said he had no choice but to jail her, asserting that simply fining her would not change her mind.
"Her good-faith belief is simply not a viable defense," Bunning said. "Mrs. Davis took an oath. Oaths mean things."
The judge said Davis could be freed from jail if she agreed to approve the licenses. In the meantime, five of her six deputy clerks said they would carry out the judge's ruling that they must issue marriage licenses while Davis was in jail or face jail time themselves. Only one deputy clerk, Davis' son, said he would refuse.
Hundreds of protesters on both sides of the issue gathered outside the courthouse Thursday to hear the judge's decision.
Some mocked Davis, pointing out that she has been married four times. Others agreed with her belief that civil rights do not supercede morality.
The White House supported Bunning's ruling. "There's a rule of law, and the principle of the rule of law is central to our democracy," spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters. "It's appropriate in this instance for a federal judge to determine the best way to enforce the law."
Davis stopped issuing marriage licenses to all couples — gay and straight — after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in June.
A lower court ordered her to approve the licenses. An appeals court upheld the lower court ruling, and on Monday, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan rejected Davis' request to block the ruling.