Metro Weekly

Judge Rules Kim Davis Must Pay $360,000 to Gay Couple

The former Kentucky clerk who refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses must pay damages and attorneys' fees to one couple.

Kim Davis – Photo: Fox News

A federal judge refused to overturn judgments totaling $360,104 against former Kentucky clerk Kim Davis stemming from her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. 

U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning, of the Eastern District of Kentucky, rejected a request from Davis’s lawyers to set aside a jury verdict awarding $100,000 to David Ermold and David Moore, one of several couples — both gay and straight — who were denied licenses by Davis, the former clerk of Rowan County.

Lawyers from the right-wing, anti-LGBTQ legal firm Liberty Counsel, which is representing Davis, argued that Ermold and Moore had not provided sufficient evidence, including testimony from medical or mental health experts, of how Davis’s refusal to issue them a marriage license had caused them “emotional distress.”

Instead, Liberty Counsel argued, they had only provided “brief testimony that their individual feelings were hurt,” according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Had Bunning agreed to set aside the jury verdict, it would have negated a separate ruling he issued in December requiring Davis to pay attorneys’ fees totaling $260,104, which Ermold and Moore had incurred in pursuing their lawsuit against the former county clerk.

But Bunning found, in a ruling issued last week, that Ermold and Moore had presented sufficient evidence of the harm they suffered and that the jury had made a reasonable decision based on the men’s testimony, which established “ongoing stress, anguish, humiliation, and tension.”

Specifically, Ermold testified that Davis’s actions inflamed anti-gay bias in the rural Eastern Kentucky community, leaving him in a “perpetual state of fear” that someone ideologically aligned with Davis would set fire to his house or harm his animals. 

Meanwhile, Moore testified that being deprived of a marriage license made them “feel like you’re less than a person, like you’re just subhuman.”

“The evidence here was not slight in any respect. Nor was it unspecific or illusory,” Bunning wrote. “Rather, it established that the Plaintiffs suffered actual injury in the form of emotional distress.”

A spokeswoman for Liberty Counsel told the Herald-Leader that the organization will appeal Bunning’s ruling. The organization has previously expressed its intent to eventually appeal the case to the Supreme Court, with an eye toward having the high court overturn its 2015 decision legalizing marriage equality nationwide.

If overturned, any statewide bans on same-sex marriage that have not been explicitly repealed by state legislators, including Kentucky’s, would immediately be restored.

Mat Staver, the founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, has repeatedly said that the 2015 decision, in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, “was wrongly decided and should be overturned.”

It is that very decision that Davis was opposing when she refused to issue marriage licenses in Rowan County, arguing that her religious beliefs as an Apostolic Christian did not permit her to issue licenses bearing her name and title to same-sex couples.

Wary of being accused of discriminating against only same-sex couples, she instituted a policy barring marriage licenses to any couple in the county.

After spending six days in jail, Davis later permitted one of her deputies to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

Kentucky lawmakers later changed state marriage forms to remove the name of county clerks — a move that Davis had supported.

Several couples later sued Davis for refusing to issue them marriage licenses, arguing she subjected them to public embarrassment and emotional distress. Following several cycles of rulings and appeals by Liberty Counsel, Bunning ultimately ruled that Davis had violated the couples’ rights.

At a trial last September, one jury decided that Davis didn’t have to pay one gay couple, James Yates and Will Smith. But a separate panel ruled that Davis should pay Ermold and Moore $50,000 each. That meant that, as a result of losing the case, Davis had to pay Ermold and Moore’s attorneys’ fees. 

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