Same-Sex Couples Still Fighting for Marriage Licenses — UPDATED
[dropcap letter=”I”]n the weeks following the historic Obergefell v Hodges Supreme Court marriage equality ruling on June 26, Probate Courts and County Clerk offices across America have become the staging area for the latest conservative frontier, aimed at opposing gay marriage. Since the 5-4 ruling, which allows full rights to same-sex couples in all 50 states, acts of protest by local governments have appeared in many forms. From “religious liberty” lawsuits in Kentucky and Indiana, to the apparent scorched-earth provisions being debated on the floor of the Alabama State Senate, civil disobedience to SCOTUS’s judgment has touched all corners of the country, but there is no question: Below the Mason-Dixon line is where the epicenter of the issue lies. The following are updates on where things stand in a number of states.
Perhaps the most explosive debate has involved Rowan County Clerk, Kim Davis. After refusing to grant four marriage licenses in the rural Kentucky county (two gay couples, two straight couples) claiming religious grounds, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit against Davis. The Lexington Herald-Leader then reported that Davis has filed a suit of her own, aimed at Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear. In the suit, Davis claims that the order from Gov. Beshear to all 120 county clerks, violated her “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Verdict: Kentucky is offering marriage licenses to gay couples, with Rowan County being the only notable exception. A federal judge ordered her to resume allowing marriage licenses in Rowan County. She followed by filing an appeal/injunction. A same-sex couple was turned away this morning for a marriage license.
UPDATE: Sept. 1, 2015
The clerk, Kim Davis, sought to put a lower court ruling on hold pending appeal, and in a one-page order the Supreme Court refused. The Supreme Court on Monday ruled against the Kentucky county clerk who has refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses.
In Court papers, lawyers for Davis, an Apostolic Christian who says that she has a sincere religious objection to same-sex marriage, said that her “conscience forbids her from approving a (same-sex marriage) license — because the prescribed form mandates that she authorize the proposed union and issue a license bearing her own name and imprimatur.”
“In her belief,” the lawyers wrote, same-sex marriage “is not, in fact, marriage.”
They said issuing a same-sex license would amount to a “searing act of validation” that would “forever echo in her conscience.”
According to Newsday, Davis has said she will not resign. She can only be removed from office if the state Legislature impeaches her, which is unlikely. If she continues to defy a federal court order, a judge could hold her in contempt and order hefty fines or jail time.
“Certainly none of those are appealing to my client,” Mat Staver, an attorney for Davis said. “No one wants to be fined or go to jail and she’s always been a law-abiding citizen. She’s just caught in a very difficult situation.”
A former deputy clerk from Harrison County has filed suit in Federal Court, after being fired for refusing to handle a marriage license application for a gay couple in Southern Indiana. Linda G. Summers filed the suit, specifically claiming the book of Leviticus as part of her legal standing. Indiana has been a lightning rod for controversy, since Gov. Mike Pence was nationally criticized for his proposed “Religious Protections” laws, which were dramatically changed after nationwide backlash from businesses and other lawmakers.
Verdict: All Indiana counties are in compliance, despite the lawsuit
State Rep. Rick Womick, who came under fire in late June, for “advising” 95 county clerks to ignore the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage, has taken his fight to the top of the governmental mountain. Womick has now called for the impeachment of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, charging that the Governor is in violation of the state’s constitution. Tennessee voters passed an amendment banning gay marriage in 2006, which was then usurped by the Supreme Court ruling in June. Womick does not see it that way. “He did not consult the General Assembly on any of this. He did this based on the five rogue justices in Washington, D.C. He doesn’t have that power, and, therefore, we are looking at impeachment proceedings.”, Womick stated last month. He then took aim at the court itself. “I am working with (U.S. Rep.) Scott DesJarlais to impeach those five justices,” Womick said.
Verdict: A mixed bag, with some counties still delaying the process while the political theater plays out.
In Texas, State Attorney General Ken Paxton has been a vocal critic of same sex marriage and the Supreme Court, calling the Obergefell ruling “lawless.” Last week, a Federal Judge ordered Paxton to appear, to explain why he should not be found in contempt for violating the new law. The issue gained national attention after the state refused to amend the death certificate of a gay man, which would have allowed his husband full rights after death. Paxton, who is facing three felony counts of state securities law violations in Collin County, finally acquiesced to the court, and the contempt hearing was canceled.
Verdict: There have been no reports of individual counties denying same-sex couples this week.
While many other states deal with individual clerks or elected officials letting their protest be heard, the Alabama State Senate is considering a “nuclear” option, and discontinuing Marriage licenses altogether. By the end of July, most of Alabama’s 67 counties had come into full compliance with the new law, but nine of them shuttered their marriage license operations to gay or straight couples.
Bibb County Probate Judge Jerry Pow said his intent is to keep marriage license operations closed permanently in his county. “It’s wrong. It’s not what this country was founded on,” Pow stated.
The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee approved a bill that aims to get the entire State of Alabama out of the marriage business. If passed, the state would no longer issue licenses, but would approve of “marital contracts” in local Probate offices. Sen. Greg Albritton, the sponsor of the bill, believes that by ended marriage licenses in Alabama, the problem will be solved.
“People go to get married and they can’t get a license in some cases,” Albritton said after leaving the committee meeting. “The courts created a problem in the system, and I’m trying to resolve it in the easiest and simplest way.”
Verdict: As of this week, all but nine counties in Alabama are granting same-sex couples marriage licenses, but that could all change soon as this story continues to develop.
Editor’s note: This article was first published on equallywed.com Aug. 13, 2015, and updated on Sept. 1, 2015.