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Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who became a conservative cause célèbre after she went to jail rather than adhere to a judge’s order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Rowan County, has announced she will run for re-election in 2018.
Davis made the announcement through her lawyer, Mat Staver, the founder of the Florida-based right-wing legal firm Liberty Counsel. Staver confirmed that Davis would seek a second term, but said she was unavailable for public comment because of a medical procedure, reports the Associated Press.
“She loves her job and she loves the people,” Staver said. “I’m sure [the election] will probably have more attention because of who she is, but you know she doesn’t have any major concerns about it.”
The filing for Kentucky’s 2018 elections opened Wednesday morning. One possible candidate is David Ermold, an English professor at Pikeville University who was among the couples that Davis denied licenses.
“I think I could win,” Ermold told the AP. “I don’t think that she has learned anything from the experience at all. I really, truly think that she feels like she is right. I really don’t think she cares at all about what civil rights are.”
Following the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing marriage equality in 2015, Davis, an Apostolic Christian, refused to issue marriage licenses, citing her religious beliefs that marriage is only between one man and one woman. But she also did not want marriage licenses for gay couples to bear her name and title, even if she herself did not process the paperwork or solemnize the marriages.
As a result, Davis prohibited her deputies from issuing all marriage licenses, lest she be accused of singling out same-sex couples for discrimination. She said that no licenses in Rowan County would be issued until the state allowed her to remove her name and title from the licenses.
On behalf of several plaintiffs, including Ermold, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky sued Davis, arguing that the courts should compel her to issue marriage licenses or remove her from her post. Because she refused to comply with his order to issue marriage licenses to all eligible couples in Rowan County, U.S. District Judge David Bunning sentenced Davis to five days in jail for contempt.
But jail time made Davis a martyr for conservatives interested in curbing LGBTQ people’s ability to get married. Presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz visited Davis in jail and held a raucous rally praising her for her stance after she was released.
She also appeared on the campaign trail with Republican Matt Bevin during his run for governor that year. Bevin used Davis’ arrest to hammer his opponent, Attorney General Jack Conway, for refusing to defend Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriage when it was challenged in court. Once elected, Bevin kept a campaign promise by signing a bill to remove all clerks’ names and titles from marriage licenses issued in the commonwealth.
Davis has refused to fade into obscurity since Bevin signed the change into effect, choosing instead to travel around the country and the world advocating for traditional marriage. She has appeared at various Republican conferences and other events, asked her lawyers to take her to Washington, D.C. so she could greet — and be seen with — Pope Francis during a papal visit, and traveled to Romania this past summer as part of a campaign urging Romanians to amend their constitution to ban same-sex marriage.
In July, a federal judge ruled that state taxpayers had to foot the bill for more than $200,000 in legal fees amassed by those gay and heterosexual couples to whom she refused service. Staver claims that the money will not come from Rowan County’s budget, and therefore, will not be a major issue in next year’s election.
Initially elected as a Democrat, Davis switched her registration to Republican after her arrest, based on the Republican Party’s opposition to same-sex marriage and the national Democratic Party’s embrace of it. While most people in the county are registered Democrats, the county went overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in last year’s election.
Local officials say Davis, a lifelong resident is well known and fairly popular in the county, and will be tough to defeat — as many residents hold similar beliefs opposing LGBTQ rights. Some others resent her because of the negative attention she brought during her protest against the Supreme Court’s decision. But she would be favored in a general election, and Liberty Counsel may even be able to use its influence as a conservative opinion-leader to convince President Donald Trump to endorse her or campaign on her behalf.