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County Clerks Want To Change Marriage License Law

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The Kentucky County Clerks Association is proposing to amend the state's marriage laws so county clerks don’t have to personally endorse marriage licenses.

The group is crafting legislation it says would ensure clerks who oppose signing off on same-sex marriages wouldn't have to.

Leslie County Clerk James Lewis, chair of the association’s elections committee, said on Tuesday the organization is confident the bill would be a solution for clerks who have religious objections to same-sex marriage.

“We would just like to — if there are misgivings, it does create a difficult choice for them sometimes — then this change would eliminate the need for that choice,” Lewis said.

At least three county clerks in Kentucky have stopped issuing marriage licenses since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in June, saying that issuing marriage licenses to gay couples would violate their deeply held religious beliefs.

The legislation is still being crafted, but Lewis said the bill would revise Kentucky laws so that marriage license forms only include the name of the office and county signing off on the marriage. No longer would clerks have to sign or have their names appear on the marriage license.

At least two bills have been proposed this summer that seek to protect clerks from legal liability for not issuing marriage licenses. Other suggestions have included taking the state’s marriage license system online.

On Tuesday, Gov. Steve Beshear said he has seen no agreement on any approach to the issue.

“Obviously in January when the legislature comes in, they can come up with another scheme for issuing marriage licenses, as long as it’s constitutional,” Beshear said.

Lawmakers have pushed for Beshear to call a special session to resolve the issue. Beshear has denied the requests, saying it would be too costly.

On Monday night’s episode of KET’s "Kentucky Tonight," House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Democrat from Prestonsburg, suggested the legislature examine comprehensive legislation to address concerns over issuing marriage licenses during the next session.

“There’s a number of statutes that need to be corrected as well, to bring in conformity all the statutes,” Stumbo said.

On "Kentucky Tonight," Stumbo suggested a proposal similar to the clerk's association plan announced on Tuesday: recording marriage licenses in a way so clerks wouldn’t have to personally endorse them.

On the same episode, Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, also proposed removing the requirement for clerks to sign marriage licenses.

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis is being sued by four couples who were denied marriage licenses in that county.

A U.S. District Court judge ruled that Davis’ religious convictions cannot be used as a defense for refusing to perform her official duties. The judge ordered Davis to resume issuing marriage licenses, but the ruling has been temporarily stayed while the case is appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

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