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Rowan County Clerk's Defiance Turns Mundane Office Into Scene of Protests

Outside the courthouse.
Outside the courthouse.

On a normal day, the mundane work in the Rowan County Clerk's Office proceeds without much fuss.

Vehicle registrations are renewed. People register to vote. Titles are filed away.

But this was no normal day.

On Tuesday, protesters and supporters gathered en masse at the Rowan County Courthouse. At the center of the hubbub was County Clerk Kim Davis, who since June has turned away couples seeking marriage licenses, saying her religious beliefs prevent her from issuing the licenses to same-sex couples. In the past few days, her continued refusal has been in defiance of a federal court order.

Outside Davis' office, supporters and protesters on Tuesday expressed a variety of impassioned opinions on her defiance, which has drawn national attention.

Ryan Bryant, a martial arts instructor from Hazard, said he drove more than two hours to support Davis. He said he stood outside in 90 degree heat to show support for a fellow Christian.

"I don’t care if it’s 100 degrees. I’m going to stand out here and show support. I’m going to back her up,” Bryant said.

About 50 protesters and 50 supporters rallied at the courthouse in Morehead.

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Immediately after it became apparent that Davis was going to continue her defiance, the crowd erupted in cheers, jeers and chants inside the courthouse lobby.

David Moore, a Rowan County resident who, along with his partner, was turned away on Tuesday morning, said he found the experience to be ridiculous.

“She has a right to her beliefs, but we’re talking about the law," Moore said. "Now, this isn’t about belief anymore. I have beliefs, too, but I would never impose my beliefs on somebody else’s rights, on their civil rights. I would never do that. I don’t know how somebody can do that."

Davis is currently being sued by four Rowan County couples who were denied marriage licenses earlier this summer. Although U.S. District Judge David Bunning has already ordered Davis to resume issuing marriage licenses, the merits of the full lawsuit will likely be argued for months to come, with the possibility of an appeal after that.

If Davis is found in contempt of the federal order, she could face escalating fines and even jail time. A hearing to determine whether Davis is in contempt of the order to resume issuing marriage licenses is scheduled for Thursday morning in Ashland.

Many of Kentucky’s Republican and Democratic leaders are pushing for a change to the state’s marriage license law so that clerks won’t have to sign off on the forms. Leaders of both legislative chambers asked Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear to call a special session to address the issue. But Beshear declined, saying it would be too expensive.

Randy Smith, a local pastor who organized supporters for Davis, said Beshear’s inaction would cost his son, Andy Beshear, votes in the race for attorney general this year.

“I can guarantee this much: I will do everything that I can to hold Gov. Beshear responsible by not voting for his son Andy,” Smith said. “We’re going to do everything we can within our power to make sure that the governor understands that the people of Kentucky deserve better leadership than he’s providing.”

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