GRAYSON — The Kentucky county clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licences to gay couples was released today after five days behind bars, emerging to a tumultuous reception from thousands of cross-waving supporters.
“I just want to give God the glory. His people have rallied, and you are strong,” she told the crowd after stepping outside, her arms raised like a victorious boxer, to the blaring Rocky theme song Eye of the Tiger. She added: “Keep on pressing.”
Her lawyer refused to say whether she would defy the courts again.
“Kim cannot and will not violate her conscience,” said Mat Staver, founder of the Liberty Counsel, the Christian law firm representing Davis. As for whether she will issue licences, Staver said only: “You’ll find out in the near future.”
The Rowan County clerk whose jailing helped make her a hero to the religious right walked free after the federal judge who ordered her locked up lifted the contempt order against her, saying he was satisfied that her deputies were fulfilling their obligation to grant licences to same-sex couples in her absence.
But US District Judge David Bunning also warned Davis not to interfere again.
As the news spread, a crowd of dozens of supporters who had gathered on the jailhouse lawn for a previously scheduled rally swelled. They broke into Amazing Grace and God Bless America and waved signs, flags and large white crosses.
She emerged next to Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and her husband, who was in blue dungarees and a straw hat. Huckabee and fellow GOP White House candidate Senator Ted Cruz visited her in jail just after the decision came down.
“If somebody has to go to jail, I’m willing to go in her place. I believe that,” said Huckabee, a former Baptist minister and Arkansas governor. He added: “She has shown more courage than any politician I know. She not only said something, she was willing to put her life at risk.”
Davis was locked up on Thursday for the boldest act of resistance by a public official yet to the US Supreme Court ruling in June that effectively legalized gay marriage across the nation. Citing “God’s authority” and her deeply held belief that gay marriage is a sin, Davis, an Apostolic Christian, stopped issuing all marriage licences.
Two gay couples and two heterosexual ones sued her. Bunning ordered Davis to issue the licences, and the Supreme Court upheld his ruling. But she still refused, and was held in contempt of court and hauled off to jail in handcuffs, igniting protests from members of the religious right. They rallied for days outside her office, at the jail, even outside the judge’s home.
The timing of her release came as something of a surprise. Last week, Bunning said that he might reconsider his decision to jail her in a week.
Five of Davis’ six deputy clerks — all except her son, Nathan Davis — agreed to issue licences to gay couples with Davis behind bars. In lifting the contempt order, Bunning asked for updates on the five clerks’ compliance every two weeks.
Today, Staver, Davis’ lawyer, maintained that the licences issued by her deputies in her absence are invalid. But Allison Martin, a spokeswoman for Kentucky’s attorney general, said the office believes they are valid.
Laura Landenwich, an attorney for the couples whose lawsuit led to Davis’ jailing, said she has her doubts Davis will comply with the court’s latest order.
“I would hope that she would recognize her legal obligations at this point,” Landenwich said. “And do what’s right.”
Davis’ jailing has offered some of the many GOP presidential candidates an opportunity to appeal to the party’s evangelical Christian wing, which opposes gay marriage and casts Davis’ imprisonment as an issue of religious freedom.
Yesterday, Davis’s lawyers took their case to a federal appeals court, asking that Davis be allowed to remove her name and title from marriage certificates issued in Rowan County so that she would not have to act against her conscience.
Casey County Clerk Casey Davis, who recently finished riding a bike more than 400 miles across the state of Kentucky in solidarity with Kim Davis, said he was relieved she was being released. He is not related to her.
“It’s been a total injustice for her being there to begin with,” he said.
But he said he is still not issuing any marriage licences, and suspects the conflict could come to his county next. He said only one same-sex couple has inquired about a marriage licence in his county and was told there were no licences being issued, and that’s the last Davis heard from them.
He said he, too, would be willing to go to jail.