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Rowan County Clerk Sues Beshear Over Marriage Licenses

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A Kentucky county clerk who refuses to give couples marriage licenses has sued Gov. Steve Beshear, claiming he is obligated to create a policy for issuing the documents that upholds her religious rights.

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis stopped issuing marriage licenses in June after the Supreme Court lifted same-sex marriage bans throughout the U.S. Four Rowan County couples that were denied marriage licenses sued Davis, seeking to compel her to issue the documents.

In the complaint filed Tuesday evening, Davis also argues that Beshear is liable for potential damages stemming from the couples' lawsuit.

Davis said in the complaint that issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples is “contrary to her conscience, based on her sincerely held religious beliefs.”

In the lawsuit, Davis argues Beshear accommodated another elected official's conscientious objection in 2014 when he hired outside counsel to defend the state’s same-sex marriage ban.  In that case, Attorney General Jack Conway had refused to defend the ban in a lawsuit against the state.

In an email, Beshear's spokesman Terry Sebastian said "it appears at first glance that she doesn't understand the interrelationship between the governor, the attorney general, the county clerks and the legislature.

"The governor has no legal authority over either the attorney general or the county clerks. They are all separately elected officials who answer to the courts," Sebastian said.

Conway, who is the Democratic nominee for governor, has maintained that he was not required to appeal the state's same-sex marriage ban.

Davis also named Wayne Onkst, the commissioner of the state Department for Libraries and Archives, in the lawsuit. Onkst was in charge of creating new marriage license forms after the Supreme Court decision.

A ruling in case lawsuit against Davis is expected next week. U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning is presiding over the case.

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