Defying the Supreme Court, jailed Kentucky clerk draws outrage and support

A Kentucky county clerk was arrested for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, citing religious belief. After this summer’s Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage across the country, Kim Davis had tried suing the state’s governor for religious discrimination, but her case was rejected. As William Brangham reports, her refusal has drawn both vocal critics and supporters.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Now to Kentucky, where a county clerk opposed to gay marriage has run afoul of the law.

    William Brangham has our story.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    The news that county clerk Kim Davis was going to jail caused celebration for gay rights supporters outside the federal courthouse in Ashland, Kentucky, this afternoon.

  • MAN:

    The judge did his job and followed the laws and held her in contempt of court, and she should have to follow those laws as well.

  • PROTESTERS:

    Do your job! Do your job!

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    The controversy came to a head earlier this week when Davis — that's her behind the desk — refused again to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, citing her Christian beliefs against the practice.

  • KIM DAVIS, Rowan County, Kentucky, Clerk:

    We're not issuing a marriage license today.

  • MAN:

    Based on what?

  • KIM DAVIS:

    I would ask you all to…

  • MAN:

    Why are you not issuing marriage licenses today?

  • KIM DAVIS:

    Because I'm not.

  • MAN:

    Under whose authority are you not issuing…

  • KIM DAVIS:

    Under God's authority.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Back in June, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage was legal nationwide, Davis stopped issuing marriage licenses for anyone in Rowan County, Kentucky.

    When Governor Steve Beshear ordered all court clerks to license same-sex couples, Davis sued the governor for religious discrimination. She took her case all the way to the Supreme Court, but, on Monday, the justices rejected her appeal without comment.

    Davis remained defiant. In a statement issued earlier this week, she said she wouldn't change course — quote — "It is not a light issue for me. It is a heaven or hell decision. I intend to continue to serve the people of Rowan County, but I cannot violate my conscience."

    Davis told a federal court judge much the same today, but he ruled her in contempt of court and sent her to jail.

    Marcia Coyle is with "The National Law Journal," and a frequent contributor to the NewsHour.

  • MARCIA COYLE, The National Law Journal:

    She and others who work for the government have a right to their beliefs, religious or otherwise, to agree or disagree with a law or Supreme Court decision.

    However, they don't have an unlimited right. She takes an oath of office, as many of these clerks do. And she is required to fulfill that oath of office. And if she cannot, then she has to resign.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    In Kentucky, Davis' stance has incited outrage in some quarters.

  • WOMAN:

    Enough is enough. It's called respect, respect for the law. And we are spending taxpayers' money on this, what is the law. So, we're all supposed to respect the law. That's the way it is. If you can't do your job, resign.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    But the embattled county clerk also has her supporters, many of whom also showed up outside her federal court hearing today.

  • WOMAN:

    My hopes would be that governor and state of Kentucky would uphold the law and would uphold religious freedom, to where our county clerks wouldn't have to do things against their convictions, wouldn't have to write down their name on a certificate that they feel is against God's word.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Davis' stance and the protests it's sparked have also drawn Republican presidential candidates into the fray. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham was asked about Davis Tuesday during an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.

  • HUGH HEWITT, Radio Talk Show Host:

    What's your opinion on what she ought to do here, Senator?

  • SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM Republican Presidential Candidate:

    As a public official, comply with the law or resign.

  • HUGH HEWITT:

    And no — no middle ground right? The rule of law is the rule of law?

  • SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

    The rule of law is the rule of law. That's what we are, a rule of law nation. And I appreciate her conviction. I support traditional marriage. But she's accepted a job where she has to apply the law to everyone.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Other candidates disagree, including Davis' home state Senator Rand Paul. He told The Boston Herald — quote — "I think people who do stand up and are making a stand to say that they believe in something is an important part of the American way."

    Davis' own beliefs will now be tested by a stay behind bars, and there's no indication how long it might last.

  • Again, Marcia Coyle:

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    I have no doubt that there's going to be much more legal action surrounding her. Her lawyers may well appeal the contempt order to the federal appellate court, but, right now, I would think she has to give some serious consideration to how long she wants to sit in county jail.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Several of Davis' deputies said they will start issuing marriage licenses to all couples starting Friday.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm William Brangham.

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