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Nearly a Week Later, Some Kentucky Clerks Still Refuse to Issue Marriage Licenses

2015-06-26 12.52.06
Laura Ellis
Tadd Roberts and Benjamin Moore

Nearly a week after the Supreme Court's landmark same-sex marriage ruling,a handful of defiant Kentucky county clerks are still refusing to issue marriage licenses.

Green County Clerk Billy Joe Lowe said he will resume issuing marriage licenses next week, but only to heterosexual couples.

He told Kentucky Public Radio that he’s not worried about possible sanctions.

“I worry more about doing the right Christian thing than worry about what some idiots up in Washington, D.C., think,” Lowe said in a phone interview on Thursday.

Likewise, Casey and Rowan counties are also not issue marriage licenses to any couples. Lawrence, Montgomery and Owsley counties stopped issuing marriage licenses earlier this week but resumed by Wednesday.

Lowe and a few other clerks have asked Gov. Steve Beshear to give them the option of conscientiously objecting to issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, just as Attorney Jack Conway refused to defend the state’s same-sex marriage ban last year.

“If the governor’s concerned about public officials doing their duty he ought to write a letter to Jack Conway,” Lowe said.

Green County has not had any same-sex couples apply for marriage licenses.

Lowe said his decision came after “doing some heavy thinking” after last week’s Supreme Court ruling. He said he's resolved to only issue licenses to heterosexual couples “like Kentucky law said to do.”

Kentucky’s constitutional same-sex marriage ban was overturned by the Supreme Court's ruling, which required states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and recognize those issued by other states.

Casey County Clerk Casey Davis sent a letter to Beshear on Monday saying same-sex marriage violated his convictions of "what God has said about marriage and sexuality."

Beshear issued a statement in response to protesting clerks earlier this week, urging them to comply with the ruling.

“While there are certainly strongly held views on both sides of this issue, the fact remains that each clerk vowed to uphold the law regardless of his or her personal beliefs,” Beshear said in the statement.

Clerks who refuse to issue marriage licenses could be charged with first-degree official misconduct, a Class A misdemeanor.

For the time being, clerks can defend themselves by saying they were waiting for clear instructions, said Sam Marcosson, a University of Louisville law professor.

But eventually, judges will start ordering the clerks to comply with the ruling.

“At that point a judge would I think simply say ‘I’m going to issue an order now and you better comply.’ And at that point if they still don’t comply you start getting into the issue of sanctions,” Marcosson said.

Judges would be able to issue fines, and in extreme cases hold a clerk in contempt and put them in jail for not complying with a direct order, Marcosson said.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. Email Ryland at rbarton@lpm.org.