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Why Kentucky's Senators Are Shying Away From Kim Davis

A prominent roster of conservative politicians have expressed support for Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who has gained national attention for her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

But two of Kentucky’s most prominent political leaders, Republican U.S. Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, have remained quiet and out of sight.

When asked for comment after Davis was sent to jail, Paul’s presidential campaign recently directed reporters to a radio interviewin which Paul spoke about standing up for religious liberty.

But he stopped short of explicitly endorsing Davis’ actions.

McConnell has not issued a formal statement since Davis was jailed last week. Requests to his office for comment went unfulfilled.

Davis has refused to issue marriage licenses since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in June. She's said issuing the forms to same-sex couples violates her deeply held religious views.

“You know, however well the Kim Davis tactics are playing in Kentucky with Kentucky’s electorate, they don’t look very good on the national scale,” said Stephen Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky.

He said neither McConnell nor Paul -- as Senate majority leader and a presidential candidate, respectively -- have much to gain from getting deeply embroiled in the Davis controversy because they are national figures.

“Supporting Kim Davis probably wouldn’t do McConnell a whole lot of good trying to lead nationally in the Senate,” Voss said. “And it probably wouldn’t do Rand Paul a whole lot of good trying to run for president, given where he fits in the cast of Republican contenders.”

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Dewey Clayton, a political science professor at the University of Louisville, said the Davis controversy is a tough issue for most politicians because of the mix of religious liberty arguments and gay rights upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It could be a potentially explosive type of issue,” he said. “There is no doubt about it.”

Voss said the issue is further complicated for Paul because of his libertarian leanings.

“It’s difficult from a libertarian perspective because you want to respect their faith but at the same time not see their faith creep into government,” he said.

Other politicians have been more willing to embrace Davis' stance.

Republican presidential hopefuls Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz -- as well as Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin -- made appearances Tuesday in Grayson, Ky.

The trio were present when Davis was released from the Carter County Detention Center, where she'd been held for five days after the judge found her in contempt of his order to resume issuing marriage licenses. Huckabee led a rally outside the jail following Davis' release. The candidates held Davis' hand and publicly praised upon her release.

As for Davis, it's unclear how her saga will play out. A federal judge has said she cannot stop her deputy clerks from issuing marriage licenses, or she'll again face court sanctions. Her attorneys have said marriage licenses issued by her deputies without her approval are invalid.

Davis is expected to return to work Monday.

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