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No Special Session To Deal With Kentucky County Clerks Refusing to Issue Marriage Licenses, Beshear Says

Frankfort, Kentucky - State Capitol Building
Henryk Sadura
Frankfort, Kentucky - State Capitol Building

Gov. Steve Beshear will not call a special legislative session to address county clerks who have refused to issue marriage licenses since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage.

Clerks in Casey and Rowan counties say that their religious convictions prevent them fromissuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Both clerks are denying marriage licenses to all couples to avoid being accused of discrimination.

Four couples, represented by ACLU Kentucky, are suing Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis for refusing to issue marriage licenses to them. The Supreme Court last month struck down same-sex marriage bans across the U.S., and soon after Beshear issued orders for clerks to begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Prestonsburg Democrat, on Tuesday urged the governor to summon members of the General Assembly back to Frankfort to pass legislation on the issue.

Later Tuesday, Beshear denied the request in a statement, saying that it was “time for everyone to take a deep breath.”

“Regardless of whatever their personal feelings might be, the overwhelming majority of county clerks are following the law and carrying out their duty to issue marriage licenses regardless of gender, and the courts will deal appropriately with the two or three clerks who are acting otherwise,” Beshear said.

Special sessions can only be declared by the governor. Every day the General Assembly is in session costs the state about $60,000.

Beshear said the legislature would have the opportunity to clarify the language of the state’s laws during the regular session that begins in January of next year.

The state Senate Republican leadership issued a statement before Beshear weighed in on the issue, calling on the governor to issue an executive order until the legislature could craft legislation.

“Religious liberties are an important part of the basis of our Republic and all statutory options available should be considered,” Senate Republicans said in a joint statement.

On Twitter Wednesday morning, Republican candidate for governor Matt Bevin called on Gov. Beshear and Attorney General Jack Conway, the Democratic candidate, to stand up for the protesting clerks.

“As governor, I would work proactively w/the KY legislature to defend the #1A rights of clerks, pastors, bakers, florists and all Kentuckians,” Bevin tweeted.

A hearing in lawsuit against Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis will take place on Monday.

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