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Gay marriage fight in Kentucky likely not the last battleground
September 4, 2015 / 11:07 PM / 2 years ago

Gay marriage fight in Kentucky likely not the last battleground

(Reuters) - The fight over same-sex marriage licenses may not end in Kentucky.

In Texas, Alabama and elsewhere a number of clerks and judges who stated their opposition to gay marriage have thrown up roadblocks to the unions, extending the fight over same-sex weddings two months after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage.

Galvanizing opponents of gay marriage, Kim Davis, a county clerk in rural Kentucky, this week was jailed for her refusal to issue marriage licenses on the basis that same-sex unions conflict with her Christian beliefs.

Others with the power to issue marriage licenses say they would be willing to follow suit, including Alabama Probate Judge Nick Williams.

“Absolutely, I feel the same way. This is a cause worth standing up for,” said Williams, who ordered his deputies in Washington County not to issue any licenses at all since the court’s June decision.

The fight has made Davis a martyr-like figure for religious conservatives who argue she is being jailed for her religious beliefs, a view espoused by several Republican presidential candidates.

But for legal experts and gay marriage advocates, the issue is clear. Gay marriage is the law of the land and public servants are bound to uphold the decision of the justices.

“In this big country, it’s not surprising that there have been a handful of isolated instances of acting out and foot-dragging,” said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, a same-sex marriage advocate.

AMBIGUITY AND SUPPORT

In rural Irion County, Texas, the issuing of licenses to same-sex couples remains ambiguous.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed suit against Davis, said it knows of only two counties in Texas that have not confirmed whether they will issue same-sex marriage licenses.

“We are not going to discuss marriage policy over the phone. If a couple comes in to apply, we will discuss it at that time,” said Molly Criner, a clerk in Irion County, which has about 1,600 people located 200 miles (320 km) northwest of Austin.

Criner is one of several public officials with the power to issue marriage licenses who stands against gay marriage for religious grounds, and has yet to face a challenge.

In Irion County, no same-sex couples have applied and no same-sex licenses have been issued.

“To keep my oath to uphold the Constitution, I must reject this ruling that I believe is lawless,” she was quoted as saying by Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based Christian religious advocacy organization that said it would back her legally.

The group, which also supports Davis, said it represents other county clerks who have yet to face challenges. It is not naming them.

“We have been contacted by other clerks in Kentucky. We’ve been contacted by other clerks in other parts of the country,” said Liberty Counsel founder Mathew Staver, the attorney for Kim Davis.

The fight has not been isolated to socially conservative southern states, all of which had bans on same-sex marriage.

In left-leaning Oregon, Marion County Circuit Court Judge Vance Day is facing an ethics review over his refusal to perform same-sex marriages. On Thursday, the Oregon Government Ethics Commission approved Day’s request to set up a Legal Expense Trust Fund to raise money for his defense.

MAY OR MAY NOT

Unlike Kentucky, Alabama’s law says judges “may” issue licenses, with some interpreting the wording as “may not.”

“I‘m the elected probate judge and that’s my decision. Thank you,” said Alabama’s Geneva County Probate Judge Fred Hamic, before hanging up his phone.

That interpretation in Alabama largely took hold after U.S. District Judge Callie Granade, of the southern district of Alabama, overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in January.

The Association of County Commissions of Alabama in Montgomery said that up to 12 counties are not issuing any marriage licenses.

That includes Washington County, where Williams, the probate judge, said he spoke with Davis for 10 minutes the day before she was ordered into custody.

    “I asked her if she was prepared for whichever the way the judge ruled and she said yes. She was very much at peace,” said Williams.

The fight could also return to Kentucky. Casey Davis, who is no relation to Kim Davis, serves as the clerk for Casey County, which is not issuing any marriage licenses. Attempts to reach Casey Davis were unsuccessful.

Whitley County, Kentucky Clerk Kay Schwartz did not respond to repeated calls and on Friday was on vacation. Her office previously said they were issuing traditional marriage licenses for men and women, but no one had asked for a same-sex license.

In the end, all counties will be issuing the licenses because it is the law of the land, said Wolfson of Freedom to Marry.

“And this sideshow will soon be over,” he said.

Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by Shelby Spears in Portland, Oregon, and Steve Bittenberg in Morehead, Kentucky; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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