MOREHEAD, Ky. (Reuters) - Deputies of a county clerk in rural Kentucky issued marriage licenses to four gay couples on Friday after she defied a federal judge's orders for months because as a Christian she opposes same-sex unions.
With Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis jailed for refusing to follow the orders of U.S. District Judge David Bunning, her deputies issued a marriage license to James Yates and William Smith on Friday. The couple had previously been denied five times.
However, Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel which represents Davis, said he believes Friday's licenses are invalid because they were not issued with her approval. Davis' name does not appear on the licenses.
"They are not worth the paper they are printed on," Staver said, standing in front of the Grayson, Kentucky, detention center where Davis is being held. He added she had no intention of resigning as clerk.
Davis is being held in isolation and has been reading the Bible, he said.
With people weighing in on both sides, Davis' jailing has come to symbolize the cultural gap over gay marriage in the United States.
And 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 roadlocks to the unions.
A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll in the United States this week showed 49.2 percent of those surveyed support same-sex marriages, 36.5 percent oppose them, and 14.3 percent are unsure. The poll had a credibility interval of 2.6 percent.
Davis, who as an Apostolic Christian believes a marriage can only be between a man and a woman, had refused to issue any marriage licenses since the U.S. Supreme Court in June made gay marriage legal across the United States.
Yates and Smith, who held hands entering and exiting the building, paid $35.50 in cash for the license. Deputy clerk Brian Mason, who had a sign in the office reading "marriage license deputy," shook their hands and congratulated them.
As Yates and Smith left the building, supporters chanted "Love has won!" Yates said all he wanted to do was hug his parents.
Off to the side, a Davis backer holding a Bible preached against homosexuality.
It was the 100th marriage license issued by the clerk's office this year and the first since the Supreme Court ruling.
About two hours later, another couple, Timothy and Michael Long, got their marriage license. Michael changed his last name a few years ago when the couple had a private civil ceremony.
"People shouldn't have to go through what we've been through just to get a basic right," Timothy Long said.
In the afternoon, April Miller and Karen Roberts, one of four couples who sued Davis in July for not issuing them licenses, received one. A fourth gay couple, David Moore and David Ermold, got a license toward the end of the day.
Emotions have run high on all sides. Davis, and an attorney for one of the four couples who sued, said they had received death threats. The judge also reportedly received a death threat.
Outside the courthouse in Morehead, Kentucky, where the clerk's office is located, about 40 people demonstrated, far fewer than the 200 protesters on Thursday at the federal courthouse in Ashland, where Davis was found in contempt.
On Friday morning, Davis' husband stood outside the county courthouse, holding a sign that read, "Welcome to Sodom and Gomorrah." He said his wife was in good spirits after her first night in jail, adding she had no plans to resign and was prepared to remain in jail for as long as she felt necessary.
"We don't hate these people," he said. "That's the furthest thing from our hearts. We don't hate nobody. We just want to have the same rights that they have."
Lifelong Morehead resident Michele Kinder, 44, voiced support for the county clerk. "It's a sad day in America when you can be arrested for your Christian beliefs."
Bunning did not say how long Davis would remain in jail. Staver said he did not know either, but her attorneys planned to file an appeal of the contempt order later on Friday.
Meanwhile, she is waiting for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, Ohio, to rule on her request to set aside Bunning's ruling. In denying the request for a stay on the order, the appeals court said there was little chance she would prevail.
Reporting by Steve Bittenbender; Writing by David Bailey and Ben Klayman; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Lisa Shumaker