Clerk in gay marriage fight: 'A heaven or hell decision'


Kentucky Clerk Again Refuses to Issue Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

MOREHEAD, Ky. (AP) — Kim Davis sat in a church pew on a Sunday morning about four years ago, listening as the man in the pulpit preached of forgiveness and God's grace.

Davis until then might have seemed an unlikely candidate to wage a moral war over the institution of marriage. She has acknowledged through her attorney that she had made "major mistakes" before she was born again.

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But that Sunday morning, as the preacher spoke from the book of Galatians, Davis — then 44 years old — repented and pledged the rest of her life to the service of the Lord.

Now as the Rowan County clerk, Davis is refusing to surrender in a battle over who can and can't be wed. She invoked "God's authority" Tuesday as she defied a series of federal court orders and once again denied marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

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Clerk in gay marriage fight: 'A heaven or hell decision'
Rowan County clerk Kim Davis is shown in this booking photo provided by the Carter County Detention Center in Grayson, Kentucky September 3, 2015. Davis was jailed on Thursday for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, and a full day of court hearings failed to put an end to her two-month-old legal fight over a U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding same-sex marriage. REUTERS/Carter County Detention Center/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS - RTX1R0AF
MOREHEAD, KY - SEPTEMBER 04: Michael Long (left) and Timothy Long, of Rowan County, raise their hands in front of a crowd of supporters after receiving their legal marriage license at the Rowan County Courthouse September 4, 2015 in Morehead, Kentucky. Kim Davis, an Apostolic Christian and a Rowan County clerk, refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling, citing religious objections. Davis was held in contempt of court and placed in Carter County jail on Thursday, September 3rd. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
MOREHEAD, KY - SEPTEMBER 04: A deputy clerk of the Clerk of Courts office fills out a marriage license for Timothy and Michael Long in the Rowan County Courthouse on Friday, September 4, 2015 in Morehead, Kentucky. Michael and Timothy live in Rowan County Kentucky. Kim Davis, an Apostolic Christian and a Rowan County clerk, refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling, citing religious objections. Davis was held in contempt of court and placed in Carter County jail on Thursday, September 3rd. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
MOREHEAD, KY - SEPTEMBER 14: Shannon (left) and Carmen Wampler-Collins walk out of the Rowan County Courthouse after receiving a legal marriage license from one of the Deputy Clerk of Courts September 14, 2015 in Morehead, Kentucky. Rowan County clerk Kim Davis was jailed for disobeying a judge's order for denying marriage licenses to gay couples on the basis of her religious faith. Today was Davis' first day back to work, after being released from jail last week. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
Kentucky's Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, makes remarks after receiving the "Cost of Discipleship" award at a Family Research Council conference in Washington September 25, 2015. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan/File Photo
MOREHEAD, KY - SEPTEMBER 4: Jesse Cruz receives a hug from a same sex marriage supporter after he and his partner, Robbie Blankenship, received their legal marriage license at the Rowan County Courthouse on September 4, 2015 in Morehead, Kentucky. Blankenship and Cruz, of Columbus, Ohio, went to the Clerk of Courts office this past Wednesday and were denied a marriage license by the Rowan County Clerk of Courts Kim Davis.Davis, an Apostolic Christian and a Rowan County clerk, refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling, citing religious objections. Davis was held in contempt of court and placed in Carter County jail on Thursday, September 3rd. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
MOREHEAD, KY - SEPTEMBER 04: Michael Long and Timothy Long, of Rowan County, kiss in front of a crowd of supporters after receiving their legal marriage license at the Rowan County Courthouse September 4, 2015 in Morehead, Kentucky. Kim Davis, an Apostolic Christian and a Rowan County clerk, refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling, citing religious objections. Davis was held in contempt of court and placed in Carter County jail on Thursday, September 3rd. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
MOREHEAD, KY - SEPTEMBER 2: Robbie Blankenship (L) stands next to his partner of 20 years, Jesse Cruz, of Corpus Christie, Texas, as they speak with Rowan County Clerk of Courts Kim Davis at the County Clerks Office on September 2, 2015 in Morehead, Kentucky. Citing a sincere religious objection, Davis, an Apostolic Christian, has refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
MOREHEAD, KY - SEPTEMBER 2: Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk of Courts, listens to Robbie Blankenship and Jesse Cruz as they speak with her at the County Clerks Office on September 2, 2015 in Morehead, Kentucky. Citing a sincere religious objection, Davis, an Apostolic Christian, has refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
MOREHEAD, KY - SEPTEMBER 2: Robbie Blankenship (L) and his partner of 20 years, Jesse Cruz, of Corpus Christie, Texas, leave the Rowan County Clerks Office after being denied a marriage license on September 2, 2015 in Morehead, Kentucky. Citing a sincere religious objection, Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk of Courts, who is an Apostolic Christian, has refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
ASHLAND, KY - SEPTEMBER 3: Same-sex marriage supports demonstrate on the steps of the federal courthouse during Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis's hearing on September 3, 2015 in Ashland, Kentucky. Davis was held in contempt of court today after refusing a court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
MOREHEAD, KY - SEPTEMBER 04: A same sex marriage supporter wears badges on the back of her back pack during a protest in front of the Rowan County Courthouse September 4, 2015 in Morehead, Kentucky. Kim Davis, an Apostolic Christian and a Rowan County clerk, refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling, citing religious objections. Davis was held in contempt of court and placed in Carter County jail on Thursday, September 3rd. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis speaks during an interview on Fox News Channel's 'The Kelly File' in New York September 23, 2015. A federal judge on Wednesday denied Davis a stay of his order requiring her office to issue marriage licenses to all eligible couples who want one, the latest setback for the Kentucky county clerk who went to jail rather than issue licenses to gay couples. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Demonstrators stand on the front steps of the federal building waving a rainbow flag in protest of Rowan County clerk Kim Davis' arrival to attend a contempt of court hearing for her refusal to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples at the United States District Court in Ashland, Kentucky, September 3, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Tilley
Kim Davis hugs her attorney Mathew Staver (R) after walking out of jail in Grayson, Kentucky September 8, 2015. U.S. District Judge David Bunning ordered her release after six days in jail, saying she "shall not interfere in any way, directly or indirectly, with the efforts of her deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples." REUTERS/Chris Tilley
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Since the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage across the nation, couples have stood in her office and wept. They have shouted and called her a bigot. They have tried to reason with her.

But Davis, who usually wears a skirt that reaches her ankles and her hair to her waist, refuses to relent, even under the threat of a contempt of court charge, steep fines or jail time.

"She has found herself in a situation she never envisioned," said Mat Staver, founder of the Christian law firm Liberty Counsel that is representing Davis in her bid to refuse marriage licenses.

After the Supreme Court's landmark decision in June, Davis announced she would issue no more marriage licenses.

Four couples, two gay and two straight, sued her, arguing she must fulfill her duties as an elected official despite her personal Christian faith. U.S. District Judge David Bunning ordered her to issue the licenses, an appeals court affirmed that order, and the Supreme Court on Monday refused to intervene, leaving her no more legal options.

"It is a heaven or hell decision," she said in a statement.

At the time she repented in the church pew, Davis had been divorced three times, according to court records. Her current husband, Joe Davis, arrived at the courthouse Tuesday to check in on his wife as a protest raged on the courthouse lawn. It's been an ordeal for her, he said. People have threatened to kill her and set their house on fire.

Joe Davis, who described himself as "an old redneck hillbilly," pointed to the rainbow-clad protesters on the opposite side of the lawn.

"They want us to accept their beliefs and their ways," he said. "But they won't accept our beliefs and our ways."

He said he and his wife have been together 19 years, but declined to elaborate on how much of that time they've spent married.

Court records detail Kim Davis' turbulent marital history: She has been married to her current husband twice, with a divorce and another husband in between.

She married her first husband, Dwain Wallace, when she was 18, and divorced him in 1994.

She acknowledged in a 2008 divorce filing having had two children in 1994 while she was not married.

In 1996, at age 30, she married Joe Davis for the first time. They divorced in 2006.

The next year, at 40 years old, Davis wed Thomas McIntryre, though their marriage lasted less than a year. She re-married Joe Davis in 2009.

"She made some mistakes," Staver said. "She's regretful and sorrowful. That life she led before is not the life she lives now. She asked for and received forgiveness and grace. That's why she has such a strong conscience."

On Tuesday morning, April Miller and Karen Roberts, tailed by television cameras and rival activists, were there Davis opened her office doors. They hoped Davis would accept that her fight was lost and issue the licenses.

Instead, Davis turned them away. On their way out, Miller and Roberts passed David Ermold and David Moore, 17 years a couple. "Denied again," Roberts whispered in Moore's ear.

Ermold said he almost wept. They demanded to talk to Davis, who emerged briefly on the other side of the counter.

"We're not leaving until we have a license," Ermold told her.

"Then you're going to have a long day," Davis replied. She retreated into her office, closed the door and shut the blinds as a tense standoff erupted in the office around her. Dozens from both sides of the issue packed into the lobby.

"Do your job," marriage equality activists chanted.

"Stand firm," Davis' supporters shouted back. They compared her to the Biblical figures Paul and Silas, imprisoned for their faith and rescued by God.

But lawyers for the rejected couples, in asking the judge to hold her in contempt of court, requested that she not be sent to jail, and instead be issued a fine "sufficiently serious and increasingly onerous" to "compel her immediate compliance without delay."

Bunning ordered Davis and her six deputy clerks to appear before him Thursday morning at the federal courthouse in Ashland.

County taxpayers pay Davis $80,000 as the elected clerk. Staver said Tuesday that she does not have a fortune squirreled away somewhere to pay whatever punishment Bunning hands down. But she also refuses to resign.

Associated Press writer Adam Beam in Frankfort contributed to this report.

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