US Fed. Court Rules Gay Couple Can Sue Kentucky Clerk for Damages over Marriage License Refusal

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Kim Davis

In August 2015, Kim Davis, a Rowan County clerk in the state of Kentucky received worldwide media attention after she refused to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple.

Her refusal defied a U.S. federal court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, following the June 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.

Davis reacted to the decision by denying marriage licenses to all couples, saying she was acting “under God’s authority.” She claimed same-sex marriage conflicts with her Christian beliefs, hence her refusal to issue the license to the couple.

Kim Davis

Her defiance led to her being sent to jail for contempt of court. Both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage debated her action and her subsequent jailing. Her supporters held rallies, demanding her immediate release. Opponents, on the other hand, argued she should be kept in prison until she agrees to sign the license for the couple. Of course, she did gain her freedom. The couple she refused the license to, finally got what they wanted. But the issue sharply divided the American public.

In July 2016, a new Kentucky law excused clerks like Davis, who have beliefs that conflict with same-sex marriage, from signing such marriage license forms. Currently, marriage licenses in Rowan County are now being issued to all citizens as required by the law.

As many of us have since forgotten about the incident, the couple that Davis refused to issue the license to — David Ermold and David Moore — have been battling in court to sue the clerk for damages over her conduct. The couple are seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

Kim Davis

In a previous ruling by a lower court, the judge ruled that the couple can’t sue Davis for damages, due to the state law passed in July 2016, excusing people like Davis from signing same-sex marriage licenses.

But the couple appealed the ruling. On May 2, a federal appeals court – the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati – ruled that the lower court judge erred in finding that damages claims by Ermold and Moore became moot, because of the state law excusing Davis from signing such marriage licenses.

A three-judge appeals court panel said the couple could sue Davis over her initial refusal to grant them the license because the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges in June 2015 made it clear that the constitution guaranteed a right to same-sex marriage. The judges said the Supreme Court ruling cannot be challenged by lower courts.

Kim Davis

After the ruling, supporters of Davis said, notwithstanding on the green light granted by the court of appeals for Davis to be sued, they are still confident that they will prevail victorious in the next court battle.

“The ruling keeps the case alive for a little while but it is not a victory for the plaintiffs. We are confident we will prevail, “ said Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, a Christian advocacy group representing Davis.

Attorney for the couple Michael Gartland described the current ruling by the court as a “no-brainer,” revealing that damages claims based on past harm often survive mootness challenges. He stated he is confident that his clients will prevail over Davis in the next court meeting.

“Do I think it’s a million dollar case? Probably not. The next step will be to go to discovery and go to trial, where I am confident we will obtain a judgment against Davis,” NBC News quoted Gartland as saying in an interview.

Kim Davis

The refusal of Davis to issue marriage licenses to gay couples earned her praise from fundamentalist Christians across the United States. Apart from their religious doctrine, opponents of same-sex marriage believe the process defies common sense and nature.

But in a sharp contrast, advocates for same-sex marriage labeled Davis as a fundamentalist who wants to use her religious beliefs to subvert the constitution of the country, as well as imposing her beliefs on all people living in the nation.


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