Couple receive marriage license on Monday in the office of the Rowan County clerk who was jailed over her refusal to issue such licenses
With Kim Davis watching, a lesbian couple received a marriage license in the Rowan County, Kentucky, clerk’s office where she had for months refused to allow any licenses to be distributed under her watch.
Davis – the embattled county clerk who was propelled to the national limelight for defying a federal judge’s order – delivered a statement to reporters outside her office on her first day back to work since the 49-year-old was sent to jail for refusing to issue licenses to gay couples earlier this month.
She said Monday that she would not authorize her deputies to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but, if they chose to, she would not take “action” against them.
Not long after, Carmen and Shannon Wampler-Collinses arrived at the Rowan County clerk’s office to obtain a marriage license around 10.45 am Monday – but their efforts didn’t succeed without a hiccup.
Unlike same-sex couples who have been denied licenses from Davis in recent weeks, however, the couple’s delay was caused by a technical issue familiar to daily bureaucratic work: a malfunctioning printer.
After a brief pause, deputy clerk Brian Mason handed the couple a marriage license, albeit one that’s been modified since Davis returned to work.
“This is about love,” said Carmen, a grant writer. “We love each other. We’re a family … raising two boys.”
The couple, who currently live in Lexington, said they felt it was important to obtain a license in Morehead, Carmen’s hometown. Davis turned them away on one separate occasion, Carmen said.
The Wampler-Collinses license was signed by Mason “who has really been great in all of this, once the judge gave the order, he was more than willing to step up”, Carmen said. It states that it was issued “pursuant to a federal court order,” she added, in line with a policy Davis enacted Monday morning. Additionally, rather than listing Davis’s name, it says “city of Morehead”, the Rowan County seat.
Earlier on Monday, a large crowd of supporters gathered ahead of what was expected to be a tense day, with the question of whether Davis would allow her deputies to process licenses to all eligible couples up in the air.
Kentucky clerk Kim Davis isn’t the only one denying couples marriage licenses
“To affix my name or authoritative title to a certificate that authorizes marriage that conflicts with God’s definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman violates my deeply held religious convictions and conscience,” Davis said, reading from a prepared statement.
State, county and local police flanked the clerk’s office on a rather brisk morning in the small town of Morehead, which has been transformed into a focal point for religious conservatives opposed to same-sex marriage.
Davis called for Kentucky governor Steve Beshear to call a special session of the Kentucky legislature to consider a bill that would remove clerks’ names from marriage licenses if they cite a sincerely religious belief.
Davis, however, said she had issued a new policy, effective immediately, to abide by Bunning’s order. Any marriage licenses processed by her office “will not be issued or authorized by me”. Instead, she said, the licenses would state they were issued “pursuant to a court order”.
Her deputy clerks do not have her authorization to issue licenses, she added.
If any deputy clerk issues a license to avoid being held in contempt and thrown in jail, “I understand their tough choice,” she said.
“I will take no action against them,” Davis said. “However, any unauthorized license issued will not have my name, my title or my authority on it.”
The work around seems to keep her in line with judge David Bunning’s order to release Davis from jail if she didn’t interfere with her deputies’ efforts to issue licenses. Davis was jailed on 3 September for six days.
“I just want to serve my neighbors quietly, without violating my conscience,” Davis said, fighting back tears. The clerk continued to raise questions about the validity of marriage licenses issued without her authorization, but the Wampler-Collinses said they’re unfazed nonetheless.
Following her statement, Davis supporters gathered around a small group who took turns preaching against gay marriage.
Local groups said couples were expected to attempt to obtain a license from Davis’s office on Monday.
Police blocked the entrance to the clerk’s offices and courthouse off Main Street.
Davis’s husband, Joe Davis, declined to comment when approached by the Guardian.
The crowd were overwhelmingly in favor of Davis’s position – a big change from previous gatherings in the case.
Nancy McFarland held a sign along the sidewalk that read: “Taking back the rainbow,” which she claimed had been misappropriated by the LGBT community. The Ohio resident drove down to Kentucky last night, along with throngs of Davis supporters.
The rainbow has “sorta been hijacked”, McFarland said. “For us to ignore the rainbow and such because they’ve taken it, it’s not a good thing.”
McFarland noted that Kentucky overwhelmingly passed a constitutional ban of same-sex marriage. When the US supreme court overturned the ban on 26 June, McFarland said “those judges overthrew the will of the people”.
Preachers outside the courtroom lobbed a stream of rhetoric against gay marriage throughout the early hours of the day.
“To be black is not a sin … but being a practicing homosexual is a sin against the almighty God,” said Flip Benham, an evangelical minister with the anti-abortion group Operation Save America.
Cal Zastrow, also with the group, said that, although he has stood by Davis throughout the ordeal, he wouldn’t support the clerk’s policy to allow deputies to issue licenses without her authorization.
“Our position would be that it’s against the law to issue licenses to same-sex couples,” Zastrow said. The Michigan resident said he has been active in Morehead for the last two weeks, mobilizing church groups to stand with Davis.
“We’re seeing raw tyranny here,” he said.
Tension and celebration in the office
That tension seeped into the clerk’s office before the Wampler-Collinses arrived to obtain their license.
Marney Maness arrived at the office to update her vehicle registration. She had to conduct the common, mundane task surrounded by a sea of reporters lining the clerk’s counter. The room was relatively quiet until Elizabeth Johnston, a same-sex marriage opponent from Ohio, chastised deputy Mason, saying “it’s a shame that you’re breaking the Kentucky law”.
Mason responded: “That’s your opinion.”
Down the opposite end of the counter, Maness jumped into the fray, telling Johnston: “But they aren’t breaking Kentucky law. They’re abiding by the constitution of the United States.”
“We have to follow the [laws] of the land,” Maness told the Guardian.
Outside the office, the scene was similar to what’s played out in recent days in the typically quiet town of Morehead: a visceral clash of beliefs, with same-sex marriage proponents jeering the Wampler-Collinses as they spoke with reporters.
“All that we want and all that we have ever wanted was for everyone in Rowan County who wants a license to be able to get one,” Carmen said.
Asked if she’s comfortable with the current policy, Carmen said she hopes the it lasts only in the “short term … while the case was in court”
It wasn’t a typical day for Mason, 38, either. Atop his desk now sits a plain sign that says: “marriage license deputy”.
After Maness arrived, a man entered the room to deliver him a gift: a candle and a box of Bourbon balls.