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In one of his first acts as governor, Kentucky’s Matt Bevin (R) issued an executive order on Tuesday that removes the names of county clerks from being printed on marriage licenses in order to allow those who object to same-sex marriage to distance themselves from having to issue licenses to gay and lesbian couples.
In issuing the executive order, Bevin fulfills a campaign promise that he made in an effort to appeal to social conservatives in a competitive race against former Attorney General Jack Conway (D). Bevin made the promise after Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis gained national attention for refusing to issue any marriage licenses to any couple in the county following the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing marriage equality.
Davis later went to jail for five days for her refusal to allow her deputies to issue the marriage licenses. Upon her release, she then altered the licenses to remove her name and the name of the county, and added a statement saying that the licenses were being issued pursuant to a federal court order. Davis, an Apostolic Christian, and other social conservatives, have claimed forcing clerks to issue licenses with their names on the form violate their personal religious beliefs that condemn or disapprove of same-sex marriage.
“Today, I took action to uphold several commitments I made during my campaign so that we can implement real solutions that will help the people of Kentucky,” Bevin said in a statement. “…As we move into the New Year and upcoming session, I look forward to working with legislators and stakeholders to build consensus and drive policy that makes a meaningful impact on the lives of all Kentuckians.”
The Liberty Counsel, a conservative legal group that is representing Davis in her ongoing legal fight, praised Bevin’s actions.
“This is a wonderful Christmas gift for Kim Davis,” Liberty Counsel told the Courier-Journal. “Kim can celebrate Christmas with her family knowing she does not have to choose between her public office and her deeply-held religious convictions.”
But the ACLU, which is still in the midst of pursuing legal action against Davis for unilaterally altering the licenses, said that, like Davis, Bevin has only “added to the cloud of uncertainty that hangs over marriage licensing in Kentucky.” The group says it is unclear whether the altered licenses can be recognized as legally valid, which could lead to problems in the future — such as when one partner in a same-sex couple dies — if not resolved immediately.
“The requirement that the county clerk’s name appear on marriage licenses is prescribed by Kentucky law and is not subject to unilateral change by the governor — conceded by the previous administration in court filings.Today, however, a new administration claims to have that authority,” said William Sharp, legal director of the ACLU of Kentucky.
“The ACLU continues to work with loving couples who hold marriage licenses of questionable validity and for those who are waiting to legalize their unions until this is resolved,” Sharp continued. “And the ACLU will continue to challenge government officials who disregard the law in favor of promoting their own personal beliefs to the detriment of the rights of others. Government officials, from the highest to the lowest, have a duty and responsibility to impartially administer the laws that exist, not the laws as they wish them to be.”