KY Clerk Testifies in Faux Religious Freedom Case

One of at least two remaining Kentucky county clerks still refusing to issue licenses for same-sex marriages testified on Monday in federal court in a suit filed against her over that refusal. To call her arguments and those of Liberty Counsel, which is representing her, absurd would be an understatement.

A federal judge heard testimony Monday from Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who stopped issuing marriage licenses because same-sex marriage violates her religious beliefs…

Davis has said she cannot issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because it would violate her religious beliefs. Some clerks have asked Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear to call a special session of the state legislature to address the issue. Beshear has declined, citing the cost to taxpayers.

On Monday, Davis was on the stand for about an hour and 20 minutes. She was questioned by her attorneys and the attorneys representing the plaintiffs.

While on the stand, Davis was asked several questions, including how she’s done her job as county clerk, where her objection comes from and who has the final say when it comes to the constitution.

Davis told the court she’s an apostolic Christian and her religion says that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. She says her right to freedom of religion affords her the ability to deny same-sex licenses because she believes the wording on the certificate means she’s authorizing the license. Davis said that is something she can’t do.

“If I authorize it, I’m saying I agree with it. I can’t do that,” she said.

Both false and inconsistent. What if a zoning clerk issued a permit to build a Muslim mosque or an office for a humanist group? Would they be agreeing with those things by authorizing them? Of course not. The government does not endorse everything it permits and neither do those who work for the government. Her job is to issue licenses for things that are legal to do, not to those things that she agrees should be done. And she refused to answer any questions on similar situations:

An attorney representing the couples who are suing Davis asked her how far a clerk could take their religious beliefs when it comes to denying licenses.

He asked, for example, whether a clerk could refuse a license if they did not believe interracial marriage was biblical. He also asked whether a clerk could deny a license to someone who wanted to get remarried after a divorce.

Davis said she couldn’t speak for anyone else and didn’t answer any hypothetical questions.

Nice try, but your attorneys will certainly have to answer those questions when the judge asks them to. If you are advancing this theory of religious freedom that says any individual who works for the government has a constitutional right to refuse to do their job if it violates their religious beliefs, those hypothetical scenarios are absolutely relevant. Where do you draw the line? The argument they’re advancing makes it impossible to draw any such lines. It permits any government employee to engage in discrimination any time they want against anyone they want.

The arguments from her attorneys were no better:

Davis’ attorney, Roger Ganham, said the plaintiffs had traveled from Rowan County to Boyd and Kenton counties for the hearings, and could have gone to another county for the license.

“This case is not about these plaintiffs’ desire to get married. This case is about the plaintiffs’ desire to force Kim Davis to approve and authorize their marriage in violation of her Constitutionally-protected religious beliefs,” Ganham said.

Why is that in any way relevant to the legal question in the case, though? Would he take that same position if it was, say, a Muslim DMV clerk refusing to issue a driver’s license to a woman because his religious beliefs said women shouldn’t drive? Would he then be arguing that the case isn’t about discrimination because she could just go to another DMV office? Of course not, if for no other reason than because Liberty Counsel cares only about the “freedom” of Christians.

Her attorneys only have two choices here. They can admit that their arguments would allow all those other identical situations, which they know will undermine their case because it essentially guts all non-discrimination laws, or they can try to make some pretextual argument for why those situations are different, which would contradict their primary argument about the inviolability of all claims of “religious freedom” and would almost certainly ring hollow to the judge, who would know damn well they don’t mean it. I’ll be interested in seeing which argument they attempt to make.

The other clerk refusing to issue licenses to gay couples is no smarter:

Davis is not the only Kentucky clerk to refuse marriage licenses after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages in all 50 states. She and some other county clerks want the legislature to create an alternative way for same sex couples to get marriage licenses.

Casey County Clerk Casey Davis has pushed for the state to issue marriage licenses online. He met with Gov. Steve Beshear earlier this month to urge the governor to consider that and inquire about holding a special legislative session to tackle the issue. Beshear’s office has said it will not hold a special session. Shortly after their meeting, Casey Davis said the governor told him to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples or resign. Casey Davis was in the courtroom Monday morning to support Kim Davis.

“He so bluntly told me to do mine or quit. I’m going to ask him to do his job or quit. That’s what his job is, so at this time, he needs to call that special session and get this taken care of before litigation, before more costs to local communities and the state. All the fees and things that are going out are going to far exceed the cost of a special session,” Casey Davis said.

Except that passing such a law would change nothing at all. This suit is filed in federal court, not state court, and no state law that they might pass would change that. The issue is whether the clerks’ actions violate the 14th Amendment equal protection clause, so even if they did pass a state law that allowed it, all those lawsuits would still happen — and they’re still going to lose them.

"She'd vote for Derrick Dearman, charged with six counts of capital murder in Alabama in ..."

AL Governor Thinks Moore Did It, ..."
"I don't want him elected because I don't like to mix politics and religion. The ..."

Moore Controversy Shines Spotlight on Evangelical ..."
"Fiji Water is owned by the same corrupt family that owns Pom Wonderful and Wonderful ..."

Crokin: Trump Was Sending a Message ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • John Pieret

    I’m going to ask him to do his job or quit. That’s what his job is, so at this time

    I know where the law says that clerks are required to issue marriage licenses to all qualified people. Where, exactly, does it say the governor has to make special accommodations for local government officials who refuse to do their jobs?

  • lordshipmayhem

    I must admit that when I see the initials “KY”, I think of the lubricant, and not the state.

    They’re going to need that to ease the butthurt caused by their own constipated “religious” objection.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    “Ms/Mr Davis, do you approve of drinking alcohol? No? But I have here records of your office approving _ permits for liquor stores, _ permits for bars, _ permits for restaurants serving hard drinks.

    “Do you approve of gambling? Your office has approved _ permits for convenience stores which sell lottery tickets, thousands of them.

    “Do you approve of sex before or outside of marriage? You have signed permits for _ motels …”

  • raven

    Davis has said she cannot issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because it would violate her religious beliefs

    Kim Davis has been married 4 times. Meaning she has been divorced three times.

    God himself, as jesus prohibited divorce. Davis is a hypocrite whose religion is just something humans made up and not found in the New Testament.

    She says her right to freedom of religion affords her the ability to deny same-sex licenses because she believes the wording on the certificate means she’s authorizing the license.

    This is a complete lie!!! The wording says the state authorizes the marriage. Kim Davis is merely a clerk, acting for the state, to record the marriage.

  • jameshanley

    Of course making licenses available on-line instead of leaving it to local petty tyrants is not a bad idea. With a little imagination, I suspect we could do away with county clerks, a 19th century innovation, entirely.

  • colnago80

    Re James Hanley @ #5

    Not for a while as there are still millions of US citizens who are completely ignorant about computers in general and the Internet in particular. These folks have to be served by county clerks too.

  • colnago80

    As the legal beagles like to intone, when the facts are on your side, pound the facts, when the law is on your side, pound the law, if neither the facts or the law are on your side, pound the table. Ganham is doing a lot of table pounding.

  • eric

    “This case is not about these plaintiffs’ desire to get married. This case is about the plaintiffs’ desire to force Kim Davis to approve and authorize their marriage

    What bullflop. I doubt anyone seeking a marriage license in the area even knew who Kim Davis was before this whole blow up. When I go into a government office I certainly want the government to give me the service it is there to give, equally and without discrimination. But I couldn’t give a crap about the name or identity of the person giving me that service.

    Nobody cares who you are, Kim. This song is not about you. They just want you to do your job as a government representative.

  • eric

    Of course making licenses available on-line instead of leaving it to local petty tyrants is not a bad idea. With a little imagination, I suspect we could do away with county clerks, a 19th century innovation, entirely.

    Maybe. I think its probably a good idea to have a third party present to witness the signing of important legal documents like marriage licenses. A notary public could do that, sure, but I’m also supportive of the notion of the government providing access to such a person on the local government site, where the application for the contract is made, free of charge. That reduces the practical barriers to poor people making such contracts. So while most middle class or upper class people certainly don’t need such clerks, I think its a reasonable civil service position for government to operate.

  • raven

    I doubt anyone seeking a marriage license in the area even knew who Kim Davis was before this whole blow up.

    Or cared.

    Kim Davis isn’t acting as the govenment.

    She is acting for the government as a minor functionary recording marriage licenses. Kim Davis doesn’t issue marriage licenses. The state of Kentucky does.

    If acting for the state violates her religious beliefs, she can always quit and find another job.

  • Sastra

    Davis said she couldn’t speak for anyone else and didn’t answer any hypothetical questions.

    You know, when I try to imagine a world where there are no hypothetical questions, I usually remember those times in #Christiandebate when my attempts to analyze bad apologetics by posing hypotheticals were blocked by the assertion that Christians don’t have to answer hypothetical questions. They see and accept only the world as God made it. Hypothetical situations are ungodly situations: sneaky rhetorical tricks of Satan.

    Maybe analogies fall under that rule as well. They start off with “if.”

  • Scientismist

    “What’s all this nonsense about country clerics being forced to give marriage licenses to gay couples? Why don’t they just go get a license from that nice man down at the County Courthouse, and leave those rural pastors alone? ..What’s that you’re saying, Mr. Cheese?”

    “That’s County Clerks, Ms. Litella, not country clerics.”

    “Oh. Never mind.”

    [Gilda, we really miss you.]

  • colnago80

    I am surprised that the judge didn’t hold her in contempt for refusing to answer questions. A stretch in the slammer might loosen her tongue.

  • Knight in Sour Armor

    So how long’s it gonna be before “do your job or quit” turns into “ok, you’re fired”? Think the governor is just gonna sit back and let this stuff slide as long as he really doesn’t have to do anything?

  • John Hinkle

    “All the fees and things that are going out are going to far exceed the cost of a special session,” Casey Davis said.

    He’s probably right. Hey, fees and things happen. It’s not like there’s someone responsible for causing fees and things to happen.

  • erichoug

    I will say, it’s fun watching the stragglers go down on this issue.

    I also enjoy seeing who can be an adult and stand up guy/gal in regards to it as well. The governor telling the clerk to do his job or resign would be one such example.

  • whheydt

    IIRC (allowing for some doubt due to the similarity of names), it was Kim Davis that said she couldn’t just quit her job because she has a mortgage to pay. This is a double whammy against her. First it shows that she is really more concerned about her paycheck than she is about her religion, despite the posturing. Secondly it means that she hasn’t figured out how lucrative it is likely to be to be seen as a “martyr” to the cause and reap the rewards of the Christian funding sites and the Fundie “rubber chicken” circuit.

    In addition, she was re-elected last year and sworn in in January of this year. If she didn’t see the probability that SCOTUS would make SSM legal nationally, she just wasn’t paying attention. That’s kind of odd for someone politically active enough to keep winning elections to a public office.

  • http://festeringscabofrealityblogspot.com fifthdentist

    From: Barbara Hillman

    Subject: My beliefs

    To: Kim Davis

    Hello Miss Davis,

    This is Barbara from HR. I just wanted to shoot you an email informing you that I’m going to stop issuing to you those rectangular pieces of paper you’re accustomed to receiving each month. Paying someone who refuses to do her job violates my religious beliefs.

    Best of luck!

    Barb

  • abb3w

    @1, John Pieret:

    I know where the law says that clerks are required to issue marriage licenses to all qualified people. Where, exactly, does it say the governor has to make special accommodations for local government officials who refuse to do their jobs?

    I went looking in the Kentucky Constitution. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t find such.

    What I did find was Section 5, which says (emphasis added)

    the civil rights, privileges or capacities of no person shall be taken away, or in anywise diminished or enlarged, on account of his belief or disbelief of any religious tenet, dogma or teaching

    That would seem to mean that it would expressly be against Kentucky’s state constitution to extend on religious grounds the privilege of such discretion to county clerks. If you have the government job, you have to do the job. If your religion says you can’t do part of it, quit or be fired.

  • sharonb

    Member, GoFundme Christian Martyrs Brigade Local No. 11297

  • postwaste

    So, a Christian can refuse to do things that violate their beliefs. Does this mean I, as an atheist letter carrier, can refuse to deliver mail for the Catholic Church? Or any pro-life group, or anti-gay group. Hmmm. This could really make my work day a lot easier.

  • carpenterman

    Listen to your governor, folks, he’s smarter than you: DO your job, or LOSE your job. WHY is that so hard to understand?

  • had3

    Ed, I believe your statement that the government doesn’t endorse everything it permits is an argument for religion to be permitted in schools etc… They would state that the government isn’t endorsing religion, it’s permitting it, and therefore it’s not a violation of the constitution.

  • eric

    Ed, I believe your statement that the government doesn’t endorse everything it permits is an argument for religion to be permitted in schools etc…

    Issuing licenses is a qualitatively different activity than educating. If , for example, the clerk was required to explain marriage law to applicants, then no doubt it would be illegal for them to use their own idiosyncratic explanation that contradicted government policy. They would have to issue the government explanation, not their own. That would be analogous to public education.

    A more correct school-related analogy to the “permission /= endorsement” position would be: the government does not endorse any particular group that students form merely because they allow the formation of student groups.

  • colnago80

    Re postwaste @ #21

    Does that mean that a Muslim cab driver can refuse to transport a fare who is carrying a bottle of booze because intoxicating beverages are a violation of his religious beliefs? Somehow I think not.