LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Gov. Matt Bevin on Tuesday (Dec. 22) ordered the removal of the county clerks’ names from state marriage license forms that are at the center of a controversy over Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who was jailed after refusing to issue licenses to gay couples.
“To ensure that the sincerely held religious beliefs of all Kentuckians are honored, I took action to revise the clerk marriage license form,” Bevin said in a statement.
Lawyers representing two same-sex couples and two opposite-sex couples challenged her action. U.S. District Judge David Bunning ordered Davis, 50, to issue the licenses and then jailed her after she refused.
Davis, however, was the face of conservative Christians’ campaign for religious liberty and the right to refuse a law that transgressed their faith.
Republican presidential contenders who court the conservative Christian vote were quick to align with her cause. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, ordained a southern Baptist pastor, was arm in arm with Davis when she left jail. She also had support from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
During Pope Francis’ visit to the United States in September, she was whisked in to the Vatican embassy along with other visitors to shake hands with the pontiff.
Although ordered by the judge who released her not to interfere with the Kentucky licenses issued by other clerks, Davis altered the license forms, creating some contention over whether they were legal.
According to Reuters, the plaintiffs in the case have asked Bunning to impose fines or put the clerk’s office in a limited receivership.
Lawyers for Davis have said that Bunning’s order said nothing about the details that must be included in the licenses. Neither Davis nor the lawyers could be reached for comment.
Davis has also appealed Bunning’s orders to the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Bunning and the appeals court have repeatedly denied her stays in the case.
Bevin’s action may not be legal, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, William Sharp, ACLU legal director in Kentucky, said in a statement that the governor’s action “Has added to the cloud of uncertainty that hangs over marriage licensing in Kentucky. The requirement that the county clerk’s name appear on marriage licenses is prescribed by Kentucky law and is not subject to unilateral change by the governor.”
It also remains to be seen if issuing an unsigned license will still be considered a religious imposition on some clerks.
Davis, an Apostolic Christian and who attends Solid Rock Apostolic Church in Morehead, Ky., refused to sign licenses in accord with the teachings of the Pentecostal denomination. The general superintendent of the denomination said in a statement that God’s plan for marriage is “the union of one man and one woman who make a lifelong commitment,” and encouraged Christians to “defend the freedoms of speech, press, association, and religion.”
(Cathy Lynn Grossman is senior national correspondent for Religion News service. Reuters contributed to this report)