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Ky. clerk returns to work, won’t block deputies issuing marriage licenses

MOREHEAD, Ky. — The county clerk from Kentucky jailed after refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples said Monday on her return to work she will not block her deputies from issuing them but will not authorize them, as one couple celebrated their marriage.

Shannon and Carmen Wampler-Collins received a marriage license late Monday morning from a deputy clerk as friends and family in the clerk’s office chanted “love has won” while demonstrators opposed to gay marriage shouted in the background. Outside, Davis supporters called gay marriage a sin.

The couple, now 45 and 46 years old, respectively, had a commitment ceremony 20 years ago and have two sons. They legally changed their name years ago.

Elizabeth Johnston and Flip Benham, who organized rallies for Davis at the county jail, called for Deputy Clerk Brian Mason, who has been issuing licenses, to be fired.

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, 49, who has said her beliefs as an Apostolic Christian prevent her from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, has been under the threat of returning to jail if she interfered in the issuance of licenses.

Davis said she doubted the validity of licenses that are set to be issued, which she said would state that they are being issued under U.S. District Judge David Bunning’s order.

Davis told a news conference any such licenses would not carry her name, title or personal authorization. She said she would take no action against deputy clerks who issued licenses but does not believe they have the authority to do so.

“I’m here before you this morning with a seemingly impossible choice that I do not wish on any of my fellow Americans: my conscience or my freedom,” Davis said.

Jeff Grubb, an atheist who has lived in Morehead for 30 years, told a deputy clerk he would stop paying his annual car taxes.

“She’s not doing her job, and I’m not going to use my tax money to support … this county government until they recognize the separation of church and state,” Grubb said.

The issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Kentucky and other states has become the focal point in a long-running debate over gay marriage, which became legal nationwide following a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June.

Supporters see Davis as being persecuted for her beliefs while opponents say she is abdicating her duties by trying to ban gay marriage which is now the law of the land.

Shortly after the Supreme Court ruling, Davis announced an office policy that no marriage licenses would be issued to any couples. Some who were denied licenses challenged this.

Bunning ordered Davis jailed for contempt on Sept. 3 for refusing to comply with his order to issue licenses in line with the Supreme Court ruling. He ordered her released five days later when deputy clerks were issuing licenses.

In his release order, Bunning warned Davis there would be consequences if she interfered with the issuance of marriage licenses, directly or indirectly, when she returned to work.

Davis left the jail last Tuesday to a roaring crowd of supporters, who later launched rallies demanding the firing of deputy clerks who provide licenses without her permission.

On Friday, Davis asked the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to allow her to continue banning marriage licenses for her entire office until a lawsuit against her is decided. Her attorneys argued Bunning’s initial order had only covered couples who were suing her.

Liberty Counsel spokeswoman Charla Bansley said on Monday they would continue to pursue appeals for Davis.

Davis has asked Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear — a Democrat — state lawmakers and Bunning to accommodate her beliefs.

“I don’t want to have this conflict. I don’t want to be in the spotlight, and I certainly don’t want to be a whipping post,” said Davis, who is also a Democrat.

The Rowan County Rights Coalition has no objection to licenses being issued as Davis described, spokeswoman Mary Hargis said. Davis violated the civil rights of same-sex couples when she chose not to issue marriage licenses, she added.

“She has an excuse as a religious conviction, but when did religious conviction and religious freedom become a shield for bigotry?” Hargis said.

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