A federal judge ordered a defiant county clerk to jail for contempt Thursday after she insisted that it would violate her conscience to follow court orders to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis and her deputy clerks were summoned to appear before U.S. District Judge David Bunning after she repeatedly denied gay couples marriage licenses, citing her religious beliefs and “God’s authority.”
The judge said his only alternative was to jail her because he did not believe she would comply with his order even if she were fined. She was escorted out of his courtroom by a deputy, although not in handcuffs, to be turned over to the custody of federal marshals.
When Bunning issued his ruling, Davis said “thank you” before being led to a cell.
Outside the court, demonstrators calling for Davis to resume her duties cheered the ruling, saying the official was not doing her job.
As news broke, figures opposed to same-sex marriage voiced objections. Former Arkansas governor and Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee, framed the decision in terms of religious liberty. “Kim Davis in federal custody removes all doubts about the criminalization of Christianity in this country,” he said on Twitter.
Davis is being defended by Liberty Counsel, a non-profit legal aid and missionary organization that defends the causes of conservative Christians. “Everyone is stunned at this development,” Mat Staver, founder and head of the group, said in a statement.
“Kim Davis is being treated as a criminal because she cannot violate her conscience,” he added, saying the decision amounted to a betrayal of America’s fundamental values.
Demonstrators outside the court immediately denounced the ruling and gathered into a circle for prayer. Before the proceedings began, the demonstrators chanted, sang hymns and waved signs, which ranged from the violent — “turn to Jesus or burn” — to simple statements of opposition or support.
Davis stopped issuing licenses to all couples in June after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. Despite rulings against her, she’s turned away couples again and again.
The couples who originally sued in the case have asked Bunning to punish Davis with fines but not jail time.
Davis, an Apostolic Christian, said earlier this week she never imagined this day would come.
“I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will. To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God’s word,” her statement said.
Her critics mock this stand, noting that Davis has been divorced three times.
Davis served as her mother’s deputy in the clerk’s office for 27 years before she was elected as a Democrat to succeed her mother in November. Davis’ son is on the staff.
As an elected official, she can be removed only if the Legislature impeaches her, which is unlikely in a deeply conservative state.
Former Republican President George W. Bush nominated Bunning for a lifetime position as a federal judge in 2001 when he was just 35 years old, halfway through his father’s first term in the Senate.
But Bunning has been anything but a sure thing for conservative causes. In 2003, he ordered the Boyd County School District to allow the student gay-straight alliance to meet on campus. -Aljazeera