Kim Davis, a former Kentucky clerk who gained notoriety after she refused to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, could have to pay more than $222,000 for her bigotry.
On Friday, a federal appeals court heard arguments about whether Davis should be forced to pay attorney’s fees and damages to people who sued her office after they were denied marriage licenses.
Davis, the former clerk of Rowan County, refused to issue marriage licenses to any couple in the county based on her contention that even allowing licenses containing her name or official title to be issued to same-sex couples — even if she was not directly involved — would constitute an “endorsement” of same-sex marriages.
Davis, an Apostolic Christian, has said that her beliefs prevent her from condoning homosexuality or same-sex marriage. However, with the help of the ACLU of Kentucky, several opposite-sex and same-sex couples sued, arguing that Davis had violated their civil rights.
After defying a judge’s order to allow her deputies to issue licenses in her stead, Davis went to jail for five days for contempt of court. The lawsuits against Davis were eventually dismissed after Gov. Matt Bevin (R) issued an executive order, and state lawmakers subsequently changed the law, to remove country clerks’ names from marriage licenses.
Appearing before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday, lawyers for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Rowan County, and Davis argued that the couples who sued over being denied marriage licenses are not entitled to attorney’s fees, reports NBC News.
That is because the plaintiffs’ lawsuit was made moot when clerks’ names were removed from marriage licenses.
However, the commonwealth of Kentucky also argued in a brief filed with the 6th Circuit that if the ACLU is entitled to compensation, Rowan County should have to foot the bill, as Davis broke the law when she defied the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling legalizing marriage equality.
Because she acted of her own accord, the commonwealth says, the taxpayers of Kentucky “should not have to collectively bear the financial responsibility for Davis’ intransigence.”
Unsurprisingly, Davis’ lawyers, from the conservative legal organization Liberty Counsel, say that charge is ridiculous and maintain that the former clerk did not break the law.
“Since Davis requested a religious accommodation (which had never before been litigated and was later provided by Governor Bevin and the legislature), she would not have violated a clearly established law,” Liberty Counsel says in a statement on its website.
Previous court rulings would seem to back up Davis’ contention, as a federal judge ruled in 2017 that Davis was acting as an agent for the state when she refused to issue the licenses. According to that line of reasoning, if legal fees must be paid, it is the state who is financially responsible.
“Neither Rowan County nor Kim Davis are liable for damages,” Mat Staver, the founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said in a statement. “Kim Davis sought a religious accommodation, and today every Kentucky clerk benefits from her efforts thanks to Governor Matt Bevin and the entire General Assembly. Davis already paid the high price of going to jail to win her battle for a reasonable accommodation of her religious convictions. Today, Kentucky clerks do not have to choose between their faith and their jobs.”
Davis, a Democrat-turned-Republican, lost her re-election bid in November. Since leaving jail, she has become a celebrity in conservative circles, talking about her decision to stand up for her religious beliefs and even releasing a memoir about her experience.
She also lobbied Romanian leaders to push for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in that country, arguing that religious liberty and same-sex marriage are incompatible. Leaders eventually called a public vote on the issue, but the referendum failed after not enough voters turned out.