A federal judge ordered Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis into the custody of federal marshals Sept. 3 until she is ready to resume issuing marriage licenses.
U.S. District Judge David Bunning said fines were not enough to force her to comply with a previous order to provide the paperwork to all couples. Bunning said allowing her to defy the order would create a “ripple effect.”
“Her good-faith belief is simply not a viable defense,” he said.
“Oaths mean things.”
Bunning said society relies virtually every day on people complying with court orders and that to allow otherwise would create a slippery slope.
The court “cannot condone willful disobedience,” he said.
“If you give people opportunity to choose what orders they follow, that is what potentially causes problems.”
Davis, who was tearful at times, testified that she could not obey the order, and that God’s law trumps the court.
“My conscience will not allow it,” she said.
“… God’s moral law convicts me and conflicts with my duties.”
After the ruling was announced, cheers and chants erupted outside the federal courthouse in Ashland, where more than 100 protesters had gathered in advance of the hearing.
The court is expected to reconvene soon, when Davis’ deputies will tell the judge whether they will comply with the order or risk jail.
Attorneys with the Liberty Counsel, which is representing Davis, argued that she met a legal test for protection under federal law because her convictions created a “factual inability” to issue licenses to same-sex couples.
But attorneys for the couples repeatedly pressed her to admit that her policy is the result of a personal choice.
Bunning agreed, saying Davis’ convictions alone were insufficient to meet the test. He also raised concerns that supporters would pay any fine he levied against Davis, hampering its force.
“I don’t do this lightly,” he said.
“It’s necessary in this case.”
Though Davis was tearful as she testified how she came to Christ in 2011 following the death of her mother-in-law, she appeared straight-faced as marshals led her out of the courtroom.
Before the hearing, more than 100 protesters gathered outside the courthouse to bolster both sides of the debate.
Demonstrators lined the street, waving signs either with religious messages or calls for marriage equality. One man stood in the crowd, shouting over a microphone.
“If we want to live like Sodom and Gomorrah, God will punish us like Sodom and Gomorrah,” he said, where in Genesis 19:23-26 God rained burning sulfur on the land of the two cities destroying all who lived there.
The Orlando-based Liberty Counsel, whose lawyers are representing Davis, said in a court filing Sept. 2 that she should not be found in contempt because lesser measures could achieve the same goal. Those include authorizing the state to issue marriage licenses or allowing someone other than a county’s clerk to sign them.
But Bunning, who had previously ordered her and her clerks to process the paperwork and issue certificates, said fines for Davis, who makes $80,000 a year, would not be enough to ensure her to follow his orders.
Ashley Hogue, a secretary from Ashland, held a sign outside the courthouse that read, “Kim Davis does not speak for my religious beliefs.”
“This is so ugly,” she said, wiping away tears.
“I was unprepared for all the hate.”
Demonstrator Charles Ramey, a retired steelworker, downplayed the vitrol.
“We don’t hate these people,” he said.
“We wouldn’t tell them how to get saved if we hated them.”
Davis, who calls herself an Apostolic Christian, has said she cannot issue licenses to same-sex couples because it conflicts with her religious beliefs.
“I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will,” she said in a previous statement through her lawyers.
“To me, this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God’s word.”
She has resisted suggestions that her deputies could issue the licenses because her name appears on the certificates. But the crux of the contempt case against her involves Kentucky law, which, unlike some states’ laws, requires county clerks to issue marriage licenses.
When four couples — two gay and two straight — filed suit against her for shuttering marriage-license operations for all couples, she argued that they could be served in other Kentucky counties. When Bunning, son of GOP Sen. Jim Bunning who retired from the U.S. Senate in 2011, told her she or her deputies must issue the licenses, he stayed his order until Aug. 31 as she filed an appeal with the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
When that stay expired, appeals court judges declined to renew it. And when she asked the Supreme Court to weigh in Aug. 31, justices in Washington refused.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.