The Supreme Court refused Aug. 31 to let a Kentucky county clerk deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of what she said were her religious beliefs.
The ruling, made without comment or any apparent dissents, is an early indication that while some pushback against gay marriage on religious grounds may be upheld, the justices won’t tolerate it from public officials.
In one of the first tests of the court’s June 26 decision upholding the rights of gays and lesbians to marry, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis had argued that her Christian faith prevented her from recognizing such marriages. Rather than deny only same-sex couples, which the high court had said would be unconstitutional, she chose to stop issuing marriage licenses altogether — and was sued by same-sex and opposite-sex couples.
Davis argued that her refusal was not a major burden for the couples, since Kentucky has about 136 other marriage-licensing locations. But federal district and appeals court judges had refused to grant her wish, forcing Davis to seek the Supreme Court’s intervention. Her petition was filed late last week by the conservative legal group Liberty Counsel.
“If a (same-sex marriage) license is issued with Davis’ name, authorization, and approval, no one can unring that bell,” the petition said.
“That searing act of validation would forever echo in her conscience.”
The high court’s ruling doesn’t end Davis’ challenge, still pending at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit — the same appellate court that previously allowed Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee to block same-sex marriage before being overruled by the Supreme Court. But it means that in the meantime, her office must issue marriage licenses.