After two months, a lawless situation in Rowan County, Kentucky is finally over. Yesterday, county clerk Kim Davis was held in contempt of court and hauled to jail for refusing to grant a marriage license to anyone in direct violation of a federal judge’s order. Davis, for those who don’t know, stopped issuing licenses altogether in protest of the federal Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality. However, as if they had a choice, all but one of her deputy clerks promised that they would comply with the order. This morning, they kept their word. For the first time in two months, couples in Rowan County were able to get marriage licenses.
Four couples sought to have Davis held in contempt for turning them away after all of her legal options were exhausted. They only wanted federal district judge David Bunning to slap Davis with a heavy fine. However, when Davis let it be known that no fine would be enough to get her to comply, Bunning decided to send her to jail until she changes her mind. As it turns out, while Bunning has a conservative pedigree–he is the son of former Republican U. S. Senator Jim Bunning–he has ruled in favor of gay rights in the past. In 2003, he ordered a rural Kentucky school system to allow a Gay-Straight Alliance to meet on school grounds.
After Bunning ordered Davis taken to jail, he called her six deputies before him and asked them if they would comply with his order, warning them that they could be held in contempt themselves if they didn’t. Five deputies promised that anyone who sought a marriage license from them would get it. As it turns out, according to the Kentucky Trial Court Review, those five deputies already told Rowan County Attorney Cecil Watkins that they have wanted to issue licenses all along, but feared retaliation from Davis if they did so. That was apparently confirmed when Davis, through her lawyers from Liberty Counsel, rejected a compromise that would have allowed her to stay out of jail if she didn’t interfere with her deputies issuing marriage licenses.
The only one who said that he wouldn’t comply was Davis’ son, Nathan. However, Bunning didn’t pack him off to jail since the other deputies promised to comply. He did, however, warn them that he would throw the book at them if there were any “shenanigans” such as closures for “computer repairs.” No shenanigans took place this morning. James Yates and William Smith, Jr. were granted a marriage license earlier this morning on their seventh attempt.
Bunning remanded Davis to the Carter County jail for at least a week while he monitors how her office operates without her. If she makes good on her promise to turn down requests for marriage licenses once she’s released, she could face legal repercussions far more serious than just being held in contempt. As I mentioned yesterday, U. S. Attorney Kerry Harvey let it be known that he has “grave concerns” about Davis’ actions this summer–a strong warning that federal authorities could step in if this charade resumes.
If Davis starts turning couples away again, it could open her up to federal charges of deprivation of rights under color of law. Anyone who joins her in this refusal could face charges of conspiracy against rights. If convicted, Davis would face a minimum of 10 to 16 months in prison, or 33 to 41 months if she talks one of her deputies into along with her. More importantly, since both offenses are felonies, Davis would be automatically removed from office if tried and convicted. Kentucky, like every other state, bars convicted felons from holding office.
From where I’m sitting, Davis wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if it got that far. She claims that her salvation would be threatened if she issued a marriage license to a same-sex couple. But it cannot be repeated enough–she didn’t allow ANYONE, regardless of sexual orientation, to get a marriage license. And now we know that she browbeat her staff into going along with her misbegotten crusade. Disgraceful.
For now, anyway, law and order have been restored in Rowan County. Let this be a message to any other public official who wants to trample on the rights of LGBT people–you’re not only wrong, you’re breaking the law.