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Judge jails Kentucky clerk for refusing same-sex couples marriage licenses

Kim Davis, clerk of Rowan County, found in contempt of court over noncompliance with federal order

A federal judge ordered a defiant county clerk to jail for contempt Thursday after she insisted that it would violate her conscience to follow court orders to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis and her deputy clerks were summoned to appear before U.S. District Judge David Bunning after she repeatedly denied gay couples marriage licenses, citing her religious beliefs and “God’s authority.”

The judge said his only option was to jail her because he did not believe she would comply with his order if imposed only fines. She was escorted out of his courtroom by a deputy, although not in handcuffs, to be turned over to the custody of federal marshals.

When Bunning issued his ruling, Davis said, “Thank you,” before being led to a cell.

Afterward, five of her six deputies said they would issue marriage licenses to all eligible couples. Nathan Davis, Kim Davis’ son and one of her deputies, said he would not.

Outside the court, demonstrators calling for her to resume her duties cheered the ruling, saying she was not doing her job. 

As news broke, figures opposed to same-sex marriage voiced objections. Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and Fox News host, framed the decision in terms of religious liberty. “Kim Davis in federal custody removes all doubts about the criminalization of Christianity in this country,” he said on Twitter. 

Davis is being defended by Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit legal aid and missionary organization that defends the causes of conservative Christians. “Everyone is stunned at this development,” Mat Staver, the founder and head of the group, said in a statement. 

“Kim Davis is being treated as a criminal because she cannot violate her conscience,” he added, saying the decision amounted to a betrayal of America’s fundamental values. 

Demonstrators outside the court immediately denounced the ruling and gathered into a circle for prayer. Before the proceedings began, demonstrators on both sides chanted, sang hymns and waved signs, which ranged from the violent — “turn to Jesus or burn” — to simple declarations of opposition or support.

But Rowan County residents stationed outside Davis’ office told Al Jazeera that they think the clerk is in the wrong.

“You can have all the religion you want to, but when you get accepted to a job, get appointed to a government job or any job, really, you leave that religion outside that door,” said Keith Robinson.

“If you sign the papers to do a job, do it,” he added.

Davis stopped issuing licenses to all couples in June after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide. Despite rulings against her, she has turned away couples again and again.

The couples who sued Davis to have her issue marriage licenses asked Bunning to punish her with fines but not jail time.

Davis, an Apostolic Christian, said earlier this week she never imagined this day would come. “I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will. To me, this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God’s word,” she said in a statement.

Her critics mock that stand, noting that she has been divorced three times.

Davis served as her mother’s deputy in the clerk’s office for 27 years before she was elected as a Democrat to succeed her mother in November. 

As an elected official, she may be removed only if the Kentucky legislature impeaches her, which is unlikely in the deeply conservative state.

Republican President George W. Bush nominated Bunning as a federal judge, a lifetime position, in 2001, when he was just 35 years old. His father, Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning, served as a Republican in the Kentucky Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

But David Bunning has been anything but a sure thing for conservative causes. In 2003, he ordered the Boyd County School District to allow the student gay-straight alliance to meet on campus.

Al Jazeera and the Associated Press

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