Gay Marriage Fight Continues in Kentucky

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Kim Davis being filmed denying a marriage license to a gay couple.
Source: Jen Hayden, “Kentucky Clerk Filmed Refusing to Issue Marriage License to Same-Sex Couple,”, July 8, 2015
[Update Sep. 3, 2015: Kim Davis was found in contempt of court and sent to jail.]

The US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on June 26, 2015 that gay marriage is a constitutional right, invalidating the same-sex marriage bans in 13 states that existed prior to the ruling. Kentucky, however, is challenging gay marriage on two fronts.

First, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis has refused to issue any marriage licenses, including to gay couples, stating, “My Kentucky constitution that I took the oath to uphold in January stated that marriage is between one man and one woman. And that is the constitution I have vowed to uphold.” Davis’ lawyers compare her refusal to other religious objectors, such as nurses refusing to perform abortions or citizens refusing to enlist in the military.

Davis says she is within her First Amendment rights to deny marriage licenses to gay couples such as David Moore and David Ermold, one of two gay couples suing Davis in federal court along with two heterosexual couples. James Esseks, Director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & HIV Project at the ACLU, stated, Kim Davis “is a public servant, and she’s supposed to serve all of the public. It’s a part of her job to issue marriage licenses, and issuing marriage licenses doesn’t mean that she endorses anybody’s marriage.”

US District Judge David Bunning, who heard the first case against Davis, ordered her to issue marriage licenses but has since granted Davis a stay while she appeals his decision in the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals. Davis wants Kentucky to pass a law giving county clerks the ability to opt-out of issuing marriage licenses for religious reasons.

Second, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear is challenging his state’s $2,351,297 bill for legal fees, court costs, and related expenses resulting from Beshear’s defending his state’s gay marriage ban from the point it was ruled unconstitutional by US District Judge John G. Heyburn II on July 1, 2014 through the US Supreme Court ruling on June 26, 2015. By defending the ban despite objections by Attorney General Jack Conway, Kentucky taxpayers are faced with a $2.3 million bill that the state is responsible for paying as the losing party in the case.

Beshear plans to challenge the total cost, agreeing that the state must pay “reasonable attorney fees,” but contending, “The key word here is reasonable. We will be contesting those amounts as unreasonable.” He says he defended the ban in court in order to “bring certainty and finality to the question whether laws limiting marriage to one man and one woman were constitutional. At the time of the appeal, fractured laws and court decisions across the country concerning same-sex marriage had created an unsustainable and unbalanced legal environment and there was the opportunity for legal chaos.”

The attorneys from Clay Daniel Walton and Adams law firm, and the Fauver Law Office who brought suit against the state to repeal the ban, assisted by the ACLU, state that their fees are reasonable, as are the common “fee enhancers” added to award lawyers for their degree of success and to compensate for the challenges faced. The lawyers stated “This case, which has often been referred to as the ‘most important civil rights case in a generation,’ will also have a profound effect on the rights of gay men and lesbians well into the future, both in the United States and internationally… [T]o label it a ‘total victory’ is not unwarranted.” The lawyers also faced challenges such as harassing phone calls and mail to their homes and offices, long hours without pay, and minor assaults.



Adam Beam, “Reluctant Kentucky Clerk Gets Time for Gay Marriage Appeal,”, Aug. 20, 2015

John Cheves, “Legal Fight over Kentucky Same-Sex Marriage Ban Could Cost Taxpayers $2.3 Million,”, Aug. 24, 2015

Josh James, “Report: Kentucky’s Failed Marriage Fight Could Be Costly,”, Aug. 24, 2015

KRON4, “Rowan County Clerk in Kentucky Denies Same-Sex Licenses,”, Aug. 21, 2015