US judge rules against Kentucky clerk who denied same-sex marriage licenses

Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis speaks during an interview on Fox News Channel’s ‘The Kelly File’ in New York September 23, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

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March 19 (Reuters) – A U.S. judge has ruled that a former Kentucky county clerk knowingly violated the rights of same-sex couples by denying them marriage licenses in 2015, paving the way for a jury trial asking for damages against her.

U.S. District Judge David Bunning’s ruling on Friday also denied an immunity request from former Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis.

Davis threw herself at the center of America’s culture wars over LGBTQ rights by refusing licenses in 2015, citing her religious beliefs. She briefly went to jail for contempt of court for her refusal, and an assistant county clerk in Eastern Kentucky issued the licenses.

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The two couples in the lawsuit had sought to marry in the aftermath of the landmark 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Obergefell v. Hodges. They sued Davis in 2015, alleging she violated their constitutional rights.

In Obergefell, the highest court in the United States found that under the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, states must grant same-sex marriages and recognize those from other states. .

But Davis repeatedly refused to issue marriage licenses, despite a letter from the governor asking all county clerks to issue the licenses and a legal opinion from the Rowan County prosecutor, which she had requested, informing her that she had a legal obligation to do so.

“It is evident that Obergefell recognizes the plaintiffs’ Fourteenth Amendment right to marry. It is also evident that Davis made a conscious decision to violate the plaintiffs’ right,” the judge said in summary judgment.

With the essential facts of the case now settled, the two couples, David Ermold and David Moore in one case and James Yates and Will Smith in another, can proceed to a jury trial to seek damages against Davis as than individual.

Davis had previously been granted sovereign immunity in his official capacity.

Liberty Counsel, a Christian organization representing Davis, said it would continue to argue that it was not liable for damages because it was entitled to religious accommodation granted by the state legislature and former Governor Matt Bevin.

The group’s statement also noted that conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices may seek to review and overturn the Obergefell decision.

“This case raises serious claims of the free exercise of the First Amendment in matters of religion and has strong potential to reach the Supreme Court,” Liberty Counsel founder and president Mat Staver said in the statement.

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Reporting by Daniel Trotta; edited by Jonathan Oatis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

About Charles D. Goolsby

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