The Supreme Court ruled against the county clerk who refused to issue gay marriage licenses, leaving her with perhaps her toughest decision yet: Hand out licenses or risk potential fines or even possible jail time.
The moment of truth comes Tuesday morning when Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis opens her office doors. She appears to have run out of legal options after the high court denied her last-ditch appeal late Monday.
Davis has steadfastly refused to issue the licenses, saying her deeply held Christian beliefs don’t let her endorse gay marriages. Her attorney said she would pray overnight and understands the consequences either way.
“Wow, wow, wow, I can’t believe it, we might finally be able to get a license,” said April Miller, who’s been denied a gay marriage license twice. “I don’t know if she’ll stand her ground and deny licenses. But I guess we’ll find out.”
Davis stopped issuing all marriage licenses in the days after U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage across the nation. Two gay couples and two straight couples sued her, arguing that she must fulfill her duties as an elected official despite her personal religious faith. A federal judge ordered her to issue the licenses, and an appeals court upheld that decision. Her lawyers with the Liberty Counsel filed a last-ditch appeal to the Supreme Court on Friday, asking that they grant her “asylum for her conscience.”
Justice Elena Kagan, who oversees the 6th district, referred Davis’ request to the full court, which denied the stay without comment.
If Davis continues to turn away couples, they can ask a judge to hold her in contempt of court, which can carry steep fines or jail time.
Dan Canon, an attorney representing the couples, said he hopes Davis will simply hand his clients licenses Tuesday, and the controversy will end with that. Davis behind bars is not an outcome they are hoping for, he said.
“But if she continues to defy the court’s order, we cannot let that continue unaddressed,” he said Monday night.
As the clock wound down for Davis on Monday, the tension intensified between dueling groups of protesters outside her office window on the courthouse lawn.
Hexie Mefford has stood on the lawn waving a flag nearly every day for more than two months. The flag is fashioned after Old Glory, but with a rainbow instead of the red and white bars.
Mike Reynolds, a Christian protesting in Davis’ defense, shouted at her that he found the flag offensive: He is an Army veteran, he complained, and they had desecrated the American flag. The two groups roared at each other. Davis’ supporters called on the activists to repent; the activists countered that their God loves all.
It was a marked difference from the cordial protests that unfolded there every day since Davis declared she would issue no licenses.
Rachelle Bombe has sat there every day, wearing rainbow colors and carrying signs that demand marriage equality. One particularly hot day, Davis, the woman she was there to protest against, worried Bombe would get overheated and offered her a cold drink. In turn, Bombe said she’s checked in on Davis, whose lawyer says she’s received death threats and hate mail, to make sure she’s holding up despite the difficult circumstances.
“She’s a very nice lady, I like her a lot,” Bombe said of Davis. “We’re on the opposite sides of this, but it’s not personal.”
On Monday, Davis’ supporters stood on the grass and sang “I am a Child of God.”
The marriage equality activists chimed in after each refrain: “So are we.”
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