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With Clerk In Jail, Kentucky County Issues Same-Sex Marriage Licenses


Kentucky can be a divided state. Geographically, it straddles North and South. It produced the plaintiffs who brought the same-sex marriage battle to the U.S. Supreme Court. And it's also home to Kim Davis, the county clerk who defied a judge's order to issue same-sex marriage licenses and who currently sits in jail for her actions - or inactions. Kentucky Public Radio's Ryland Barton tells us how Kentucky became a focal point for the same-sex marriage dispute.

RYLAND BARTON, BYLINE: This week, the cauldron of Kentucky politics was dramatically exposed for the whole world to see. The most surprising thing for non-Kentuckians about the embattled county clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples might be the fact that she's a Democrat. But like our bourbon and bluegrass, the Kentucky brand of Democrat is complex. Davis, who's an Apostolic Christian, has persistently asserted that her religious views should be accommodated so that she doesn't have to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. That's not unusual for Kentucky Democrats. The leaders of the state House, Senate and Democratic candidate for governor all say they would support legislation exempting clerks from signing off on marriage licenses so they don't have to approve same-sex marriages if they don't want to.


KIM DAVIS: The Supreme Court gave a ruling. They are not making law.

DAVID MILLER: That's how our system works.

BARTON: That's from Tuesday morning, when Kim Davis refused to issue a marriage license to David Miller and his partner, David Ermold, a day after the Supreme Court refused to stay an order to resume issuing the forms.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE #1: (Chanting) Stand firm, stand firm...

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE #2: (Chanting) Do your job, do your job.

BARTON: Davis is now in jail for refusing that order. Her last stand has been a critical skirmish between conservatives and activists in the state, says University of Louisville law professor Sam Marcosson.

SAM MARCOSSON: It's clashed in front of that courthouse. It's clashed in the courtroom as the sides have fought over the rights of Kim Davis.

BARTON: Here's David Ermold.


DAVID ERMOLD: You should be ashamed of yourself. Everyone in this office should be ashamed of themselves. Is this what you want to remember? Is this what you want to remember, that you stood up for this?

BARTON: Marcosson says that Kentucky's pitched emotions on marriage set the stage for Kim Davis's last stand.

MARCOSSON: This is absolutely true that Kentucky has this sort of blend of cultures that allow it to have become basically the front line in this first wave of responses that has gotten all the national attention.

BARTON: Kentuckians' views on same-sex marriages have changed in recent years. In 2004, the state passed its constitutional ban on same-sex marriage with 73 percent of the vote. According to a poll from this year, just 53 percent of would-be voters disapprove of the Supreme Court's ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. But that's still a majority, so the state's elected officials skew socially conservative. University of Kentucky political science professor Steve Voss says that means on cultural issues, Kentucky Democrats look like Republicans.

STEVE VOSS: On economic issues, they may not be especially conservative. But when you move into the social and cultural domain, they are very conservative.

BARTON: Democratic Governor Steve Beshear, who had defended the state's same-sex marriage ban, ordered all county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the ruling. And that's what Kim Davis just couldn't take.


DAVIS: There is a remedy to this...

MILLER: I would like to ask you a question...

DAVIS: ...If the governor would do what he is supposed to do. He could settle all this.

BARTON: Davis wants Beshear to change the marriage license form so that clerks don't have to sign them. Beshear has refused, and Davis, for some reason, hasn't stepped down. Here's Voss again.

VOSS: There are certainly conservative county clerks who are, you know, personally against the same-sex marriage decisions all over much of the country. You just needed to have one person who believed it strongly enough. She was willing to be thrust into the spotlight, criticized, threatened, put in jail.

BARTON: U.S. District Judge David Bunning says Kim Davis will remain in jail until she complies with his order for her to issue marriage licenses. She's shown no sign that she will. For NPR News, I'm Ryland Barton in Grayson, Ky. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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