MOREHEAD, Ky. (AP) — A gay couple walked out of a Kentucky courthouse with a marriage license Friday morning, a day after the county’s defiant clerk was hauled to jail for refusing to license same-sex marriages, citing “God’s authority.”
William Smith Jr. and James Yates, a couple for nearly a decade, were the first to receive a marriage license in Rowan County, ending a months-long standoff.
County clerk Kim Davis has refused to issue licenses since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in June. The Apostolic Christian had turned away couples again and again, in defiance of a series of federal court orders.
But on Friday morning, Davis sat in a county jail, ordered there by a federal judge who found her in contempt for refusing to follow his order that she issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
U.S. District Judge David Bunning offered to release Davis if she promised not to interfere with her employees issuing licenses, but she refused. She told the judge her mother-in-law pleaded with her to go to church from her deathbed four years ago. She did, converting to Christianity and the belief that gay marriage is a sin.
Speaking to reporters before the licenses were issued Friday, Davis’ husband, Joe Davis, said his wife was in good spirits after her first night in jail.
Holding a sign that says “Welcome to Sodom and Gomorrah,” Joe Davis said his wife would not resign from her position and would stay in jail for as long as it takes.
After sending Davis to jail, Bunning threatened each of her six employees with the same fate if they followed her lead and refused to comply with his order. Five of the six deputy clerks told Bunning they would issue the licenses. The sixth clerk, Kim Davis’ son, was the holdout.
At one point, Bunning looked at Davis’ son Nathan and warned him not to interfere with his fellow employees on Friday. The judge said he did not want “any shenanigans,” like the staff closing the office for computer upgrades as they did briefly last week.
“That would show a level of disrespect for the court’s order,” Bunning said. He added: “I’m hoping that cooler heads will prevail.”
Davis’ son sat stoically as the judge questioned the clerks, some of whom were reluctant.
“I don’t really want to, but I will comply with the law,” deputy clerk Melissa Thompson said, weeping while she stood before the packed courtroom. “I’m a preacher’s daughter and this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.”
“I don’t hate anybody,” she added. “None of us do.”
Bunning indicated Kim Davis would remain in jail at least a week, saying he would revisit his decision after the deputy clerks have had time to comply with his order.
Davis said she hopes the Legislature will change Kentucky laws to find some way for her to keep her job while following her conscience. But Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear again refused to call a special session of the legislature on Thursday. State lawmakers will not meet until January.
Davis wept during her testimony in federal court Thursday, telling the judge she was “always a good person” but that she gave her heart to the Lord in 2011 and “promised to love Him with all my heart, mind and soul because I wanted to make heaven my home.”
“God’s moral law conflicts with my job duties,” Davis told the judge before she was taken away by a U.S. marshal. “You can’t be separated from something that’s in your heart and in your soul.”
Davis stood and thanked Bunning after he ordered her to jail, pausing briefly to search the crowded courtroom for familiar faces before she was led away.
April Miller said Thursday she was stunned with the judge’s order. She said she and Karen Roberts will get a license, “show that piece of paper off for a minute or two,” then go home and try to resume a quiet life together, without court appearances and reporters calling at all hours.
They’ll be busy planning a wedding, she said. They need a venue, a caterer and a cake.
“We look forward to (Friday) as a couple,” she said. “It will be a very important day in our lives.”
Associated Press writer Claire Galofaro in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.