- A former Kentucky county clerk violated the constitutional rights of two gay couples when she refused to marry them, a judge has heard.
- Kim Davis refused to issue marriage licenses to two same-sex couples in 2015, saying she “supports the word of God”.
- The decision clears the way for a lawsuit for damages for the plaintiffs.
A federal judge ruled Friday that former Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis violated the constitutional rights of two gay couples when she refused to marry them.
Davis briefly went to jail in 2015 for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, even after the United States Supreme Court ruled the same year that the constitution guaranteed same-sex couples the right to marry. to marry. In her denial, Davis cited religion, saying she “supports the word of God.”
“It is the opinion of this Court that Davis violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional right to marry,” U.S. Judge David Bunning of the Eastern District of Kentucky said in his Friday ruling.
The decision opens the door to the possibility of punitive damages for the couples she refused to marry, David Ermold and David Moore, as well as Will Smith and James Yates. Both couples filed civil lawsuits against her, according to court documents.
In his ruling, Bunning said despite the fact that “Davis has read and understood the Oberefell decision,” she still told her employees not to issue the marriage licenses.
“Davis told Ermold’s plaintiffs that she could not give them a marriage license ‘under the authority of God,'” the ruling said.
Ermold and Moore applied for marriage licenses two more times at the Rowan County Clerk’s Office, and Smith and Yates applied for marriage licenses four more times. Both sets of plaintiffs were eventually granted marriage licenses by an assistant clerk while Davis was held in jail in 2015, court documents show.
“Based on the record before the Court, it seems plausible that Davis may have acted with reckless indifference to the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights. Davis knew that Obergefell prohibited states from excluding same-sex couples from the law to marry, but she always refused to issue marriage licenses to plaintiffs,” Bunning wrote.
Davis’ legal battles
In 2015, Davis, the Rowan County clerk in northeastern Kentucky, stopped issuing marriage licenses after the Supreme Court struck down a nationwide ban on same-sex marriage. Davis was found in contempt of court and her staff began to issue licenses in his absence. Although Davis was elected as a Democrat in 2014, she switched to the Republican Party after her release from prison.
In 2018 Davis lost his re-election bid for Rowan County Clerk. One of the people Davis denied a marriage license to, David Ermold, came forward against her. Davis ultimately lost to Democrat Elwood Caudill Jr.
In 2019, a federal appeals court ruled that Davis could be sued for damages on an individual basis. Sovereign immunity shielded her from prosecution when she was Rowan County Clerk.
While fighting the issue, Davis claimed the Supreme Court ruling did not apply to her because she had stopped issuing marriage licenses for everyone, not just same-sex couples. The appeals court ruled that the argument was “as sweeping as it was unequivocal”.
The plaintiffs “will finally have their day in court”
The next court date is scheduled for April 1, where a trial date is expected to be set. The two couples are asking for an unspecified amount as well as the cost of attorney’s fees, according to court documents.
“The plaintiffs couldn’t be happier,” said attorney Michael Gartland, who represents plaintiffs Ermold and Moore. WKYT.
“As the court notes in the ruling, this case has been pending since 2015. They couldn’t be happier to finally have their day in court and they are confident that justice will be served,” Gartland added.
Rene Heinrich and W. Kash Stilz, Jr., attorneys for Smith and Yates, told Insider they were “delighted that Judge Bunning agreed that our clients’ constitutional right to marry had been violated.”
“James and Will are happy that we can take the next step to put this horrible time in their lives in the past and move on,” Heinrich told Insider.
Liberty Counsel, who represents Davis, said she argued that “a statement of liability would violate the First Amendment of the free exercise of religion.”
“Liberty Counsel represents Davis and will continue to argue that she is not liable for damages because she was entitled to religious accommodation,” the organization said in a statement. declaration.