Alternately tearful and smiling, Kentucky county court clerk Kim Davis, who had been jailed after refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, told a crowd of more than a thousand supporters to “keep on pressing” after her release Tuesday.
“I just want to give God his glory,” said Davis, who is an Apostolic Christian. Holding religious signs in front of the Carter County Detention Center in Grayson, Kentucky, and singing religious songs, her supporters cheered.
Davis' release came as a happy surprise to them. They gathered for a rally with Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who was standing by Davis’ side when she spoke. Huckabee called Davis an incredibly brave lady.
“I told Kim today that she has shown more courage than almost any politician I know, and most any pastor I know, because she has not only said something, she has been willing to put her life at risk," Huckabee said.
Huckabee, a Baptist minister and former governor of Arkansas, told Davis' supporters that she "has ignited something across this country where people are tired of the tyranny of judicial action that takes people's freedoms away, takes their basic fundamental constitutional rights and puts them in jeopardy, and a tyranny of a legislative court that believes that can it make up law and somehow find a way to enforce it."
Huckabee and fellow Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz had planned jailhouse visits before Davis was ordered released.
Case not closed
U.S. District Judge David Bunning ordered Davis jailed for contempt of court when she refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses because of her religious convictions. Davis' release after six days in jail was possible, the judge said, because five of her six deputy clerks in Rowan County "stated under oath they would comply with the court's order and issue marriage certificates to all legally eligible couples." The sixth deputy clerk is Davis' son, and he has not been granting licenses.
Bunning made clear as he released Davis that she was not to interfere “in any way, directly or indirectly,” with the efforts of her deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
Davis is expected to return to work in a few days — and what then?
“Kim Davis will not violate her conscience,” her attorney, Mat Staver, said, adding that her conscience had not changed after six days in jail.
Staver is chairman of the Liberty Council, a religious-rights group that is providing legal counsel to Davis. He said the court order did not resolve the underlying issue.
“Kim Davis has asked for a very simple accommodation — remove her name and her authority from the marriage certificates — and that is what we’ve asked from the very beginning," Staver said. "Kim still is asking for that today and will continue to ask in the future.”
What this means in the face of Bunning’s order for Davis not to interfere is not clear. “You’ll find out in the near future,” Staver told reporters in front of the detention center.
But analysts said removing Davis’ name from the certificates was not at all a simple request because county clerks by legal definition are required to grant marriage licenses.
“As county clerk, I am responsible for providing many services to the people of Rowan County,” Davis writes on the county website. “These duties include general categories of clerical duties of the fiscal court: issuing and registering, recording and keeping various legal records, registering and purging voter rolls, and conducting election duties and tax duties.”
Elected last November by a slim majority of Rowan County’s 23,000 residents, Davis still has more than three years to serve as county clerk.
Was it worth it?
The U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in a ruling in June, making it the law of the land.
“While Davis has the right to believe whatever she likes, as a public official, she has no legal basis to refuse to follow the Supreme Court’s ruling,” said Sarah Warbelow of the Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights organization that promotes gay and transgender equality.
But Davis has said she is subject to a higher law, and that God will sanction marriage only between a man and a woman.
She was headed home after her release to spend time with her husband, whom she has barely seen in six days, and to sleep in her own bed.
But when asked by a reporter outside the detention center whether spending six days in custody was “worth it,” Davis nodded her head yes.