By Bob Allen
A group that advocates for both the free exercise of religion and separation of church and state says in a brief filed with the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Kentucky county clerk must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite her personal religious belief that marriage is between only a man and a woman.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a national educational and advocacy organization founded in 1947, argued that Rowan County, Ky., Clerk Kim Davis “has no right to mold the conduct of the County Clerk’s Office to fit her personal religious beliefs.”
Davis spent five days in jail earlier this year for contempt of court after she refused to obey a June ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that states cannot bar gays from the benefits of civil marriage that are afforded to straight couples.
Davis, an apostolic Christian, responded by refusing to issue any marriage licenses, citing her religion as authority.
“My constituents elected me,” she said. “But the main authority that rules my life is the Lord.”
In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Dec. 23, Americans United argued that the Constitution, not an official’s personal views, is the law of the land.
“As a private citizen, Davis has the right to marry (or not marry) in a manner that is consistent with her religious beliefs,” the brief said. “But as a public official of Rowan County, Davis is bound by the decisions of the Supreme Court.”
The brief said the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibits Davis “from forcing Rowan County and its citizens to conform to the dictates of her faith.”
“The First Amendment is not the personal plaything of Kim Davis or any other government official,” said AU Executive Director Barry Lynn, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. “No official has the right to deny constitutional rights to others simply on the basis of their own religious beliefs.”
On Dec. 22, Kentucky’s new governor issued an executive order removing county clerk names from marriage licenses. Davis’ legal team called it a “wonderful Christmas gift” protecting religious rights and freedom.
Critics questioned whether Gov. Matt Bevin has the authority to override state law, which requires that the marriage certificate include “the signature of the county clerk or deputy clerk issuing the license.”
Americans United said the legality of Bevin’s executive order “is at best questionable.”