A federal judge has ruled that a former Kentucky clerk violated the constitutional rights of two gay couples who were among those he would not issue a marriage license to.
A federal judge has ruled that a former Kentucky clerk violated the constitutional rights of two gay couples who were among those he would not issue a marriage license to – a denial that garnered international attention and sent him to prison briefly in 2015.
Ashland U.S. District Judge David Booning on Friday handed down the verdict in two long-running cases involving former Rowan County clerk Kim Davis and two gay couples suing him. With the decision, a jury trial will still be needed to decide on any damages that the couple may owe.
Buning argued that Davis “cannot use his own constitutional rights as a shield to infringe on the constitutional rights of others while performing his duties as an elected official.”
Davis, a Christian who has religious objections to same-sex marriage, stopped issuing all marriage licenses in the wake of the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that same-sex couples won the right to marry across the country.
This led to a lawsuit against him and a judge ordered Davis to issue a license. He was sued by gay and straight couples and spent five days in jail for his refusal.
He was released after his staff removed his name from the form, even though his staff had issued a license for him. The state legislature later enacted a law removing all county clerk names from state marriage licenses.
Davis, a Republican, finally lost his bid for re-election in 2018. Democrat Elwood Codell Jr. is now the county clerk.
Davis argued that a legal doctrine called competent immunity protected him from suing the couple, David Ermold and David Moore, as well as James Yates and Will Smith. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in October 2020 to allow the case to proceed, refusing to take the case.
Michael Gartland, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, told WKYT-TV “they can’t be happier that they’re finally getting their day in court and they’re confident that justice will be done.”
Liberty Council, the law firm representing Davis, said the case could go back to the Supreme Court.
The group points to comments by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on the 2020 ruling, when he wrote for himself and Justice Samuel Alito.
Thomas wrote that while he agreed with the decision not to hear the Davis case in 2020 regarding immunity claims, it was “a strong reminder of the consequences” of the court’s 2015 decision in the same-sex marriage case.
Because of that lawsuit, he wrote, “those who sincerely have religious beliefs about marriage will find it increasingly difficult to participate in society without the lawsuit and its impact on other anti-discrimination laws.”
Matt Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Council, said: “Kim Davis deserves the protection of a home based on his sincere religious beliefs.” The case raises serious serious concerns about the First Amendment free religion and is likely to reach the Supreme Court. “