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Judge Orders Beshear To Weigh In On Altered Rowan County Marriage Licenses

Ryland Barton

This story has been updated.

A federal judge has ordered Gov. Steve Beshear to weigh in on whether altered marriage licenses issued by Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis are valid.

Last month, the ACLU of Kentucky asked the court to enforce an earlier order for Davis to resume issuing the forms. The ACLU said modifications Davis made to the license after that order rendered the documents invalid.

She refuses to issue marriage licenses personally. She's said her religious convictions prevent her from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Following the landmark Supreme Court ruling this summer effectively legalizing same-sex marriage, Davis stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether to avoid being accused of discrimination, she said. Last month, U.S. District Judge David Bunning sent Davis to jail for five days after she refused to issue the licenses; she was freed after her deputy clerks resumed issuing the forms.

When she returned to work, Davis removed her own name and title from the license that deputies issued, instead inserting: “Pursuant to Federal Court Order #15-CV-44 DLB.”

In acourt filing last month, a lawyer for Deputy Rowan County Clerk Brian Mason questioned the validity of the altered licenses.

Davis and her attorneys say that the licenses are valid because Beshear and Attorney General Jack Conway said they were.

Once Davis started issuing the altered forms, Beshear told reporters that as long as the judge doesn’t have a problem with the licenses, he doesn’t.

“I’m also confident and satisfied that the licenses that were issued last week, the licenses that were issued this morning substantially comply with the law in Kentucky, and they’re going to be recognized as valid in the commonwealth,” Beshear said at the time.

On Wednesday evening, a spokesman for the governor's office said in an email: "Pursuant to a court order in which the court found no issue with marriage licenses issued by the Rowan County Clerk’s office with minor alterations, the commonwealth has recognized such licenses as valid under the law. We will be filing a response pursuant to the court’s directive and will abide by its decision.”

Davis and her attorneys have repeatedly requested that Beshear call a special legislative session so lawmakers can consider a bill that would exempt county clerks from having to issue marriage licenses. Beshear has refused, saying that a special session would be too costly.

Legislative leaders and both major party candidates for governor have shown interest in passing a law to exempt the clerks.

In order to force Davis to issue unaltered licenses, the ACLU has asked the court to fine Davis or put the Rowan County Clerk’s Office in a receivership — effectively putting it under the control of the court.

Department for Libraries and Archives Commissioner Wayne Onkst was also ordered to weigh in on the validity of the marriage licenses. Onkst and Beshear have 30 days to respond.

The county clerks of Whitley County and Casey County continue to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

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