Kentucky clerk who refused gay marriage licences can be sued, court rules

A Kentucky county clerk who gained notoriety for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples can be sued for damages, a court has ruled.

Two of those couples may proceed with their legal cases against Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who in 2015 refused same-sex couples marriage licenses, the federal appeals court judgment said.

In the August 23 ruling, the judges said Davis can be individually sued, although she is protected by sovereign immunity from being sued in her former role as Rowan county clerk.

The judgment, from the 6th US circuit court of appeals in Cincinnati, was unanimous with all three judges agreeing.

Davis, a born-again Christian, had claimed that she stopped issuing all marriage licenses after the 2015 Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex marriage in the US, and that same-sex couples could apply for marriage licenses elsewhere.

Because she stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether she was not in breach of the Supreme Court decision recognising a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, she said.

But the appeals court said the Supreme Court decision was “as sweeping as it was unequivocal”.

“In short, plaintiffs pleaded a violation of their right to marry: a right the Supreme Court clearly established,” Circuit Judge Richard Griffin wrote, according to NBC. “The district court therefore correctly denied qualified immunity to Davis.”

The two couples – David Ermold and David Moore, and Will Smith and James Yates – can therefore try to show that Davis acted unreasonably, the appeals court said.

Both couples are now married.

Davis was represented by evangelical Christian law firm Liberty Counsel.

Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, said in an interview, “At the end of the day, she will ultimately prevail. She had no hostility to anyone, given that she stopped issuing all marriage licenses.”

“The broader issue is what accommodation a court should provide someone based on their religious beliefs,” he added. “It’s a matter of time before such a case goes squarely before the Supreme Court.”