A U.S. appeals court ruled on Wednesday that a Kentucky county clerk must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, turning down her request to stay a lower court's order and rejecting her argument that doing so would be against her religious beliefs.
In light of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in June legalizing gay marriage nationwide, it could not be defensibly argued that Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis' office may decline to act in conformity with the U.S. Constitution, the appeals court said.
"There is thus little or no likelihood that the clerk in her official capacity will prevail on appeal," the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in denying her request for a stay, pending her appeal to the court.
April Miller and her partner of over a decade, Karen Roberts, were one of the four couples who sued Davis. Miller read the ruling on her phone in the living room of the house they share on the outskirts of Morehead.
They felt vindicated, they told The Associated Press. They got out the boxes holding their matching wedding bands, bought days after the Supreme Court's decision in June. "One step closer," Miller said. "We might be able to get married in September."
Davis has refused to issue any marriage licenses since the Supreme Court ruling, saying that processing such applications would violate her religious beliefs.
U.S. District Judge David Bunning said earlier in August that Davis had to fulfill her responsibilities as county clerk despite her religious beliefs and issued a preliminary injunction requiring her to issue marriage licenses to all eligible couples.
Bunning put his order on hold to give Davis an opportunity to ask the appeals court for a longer stay.
"We sincerely hope that she complies with the injunction and begins issuing licenses, as is her job," said Joe Dunman, one of the lawyers representing the eight plaintiffs, including two same-sex couples.
Mat Staver, the chairman and founder of Florida-based Liberty Counsel, which represents Davis, said he was disappointed in the order and would consult with Davis about possible further steps, including asking the Supreme Court for a stay. "It suggests that a government official doesn't have any independent constitutional rights," he said.
Davis' attorneys argued that she would be harmed if forced to issue licenses and that any affected gay couples could turn to other clerks' offices in the state for service.
Kentucky is not alone in facing unresolved issues related to same-sex marriage since the Supreme Court's ruling. Lawsuits linked to the issue have been filed in Colorado, Florida, Mississippi and South Carolina.
Shortly after the high court's ruling, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, ordered the state's 120 county clerks to begin processing same-sex marriage licenses.
A few clerks, including Davis, disregarded his order on the basis of what they said was their Christian belief that marriage may be between only a man and a woman.