Kim Davis is still causing chaos in Kentucky.
As you probably remember, the Rowan County clerk did a brief stint in jail several months ago, not because of her religious beliefs, but because she would not issue marriage licenses to eligible couples and prevented her staff from doing so as well. After her release, Davis was mum on whether she would issue licenses herself or allow her staff to do so. And on her first day back “on the job” (in quotes because she still refuses to actually do her job), Davis reportedly stayed in her office all day with the door and blinds closed.
In the weeks that followed, Davis’ staff got back to its taxpayer-funded task of issuing marriage licenses to all qualified couples. But there is another problem – those licenses may not be valid.
Since Sept. 4, Davis’ office has issued licenses without Davis’ name. In its place is the county name. Kentucky law, however, requires the issuing clerk’s name to be on the licenses. And to make matters even more confusing, Davis created yet another version of Rowan County marriage licenses in which she made multiple changes, including removing the phrase “in the office of” and changing it to “Pursuant to Federal Court Order #15-CV-44-DLB.”
Now some are wondering about the validity of Davis’ altered licenses. In fact, the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the ongoing lawsuit against Davis have argued that the altered licenses violate the court’s earlier orders, and have asked the judge to require Davis to use the proper form.
Somehow the situation got even worse yesterday, thanks to new Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R). Previous Gov. Steve Beshear (D) chose not to aid or abet Davis, but Bevin is a Tea Party ally who opposes marriage equality and has expressed support for the clerk. He decided to issue an executive order that allows for the removal of all clerks' names from marriage licenses. Bevin said the action would “ensure that the sincerely held religious beliefs of all Kentuckians are honored.”
Mat Staver, Davis’ anti-gay Religious Right attorney, quickly praised the order.
“This is a wonderful Christmas gift for Kim Davis,” Staver said. “This executive order is a clear, simple accommodation on behalf of Kim Davis and all Kentucky clerks. Kim can celebrate Christmas with her family knowing she does not have to choose between her public office and her deeply-held religious convictions.”
Bevin’s order may have been a gift to Davis, but it’s a lump of coal not only for LGBT couples but anyone who receives a license that may violate Kentucky law. State law requires the name of the county clerk to be on marriage licenses, and it’s at best unclear if Bevin has the authority to change that unilaterally.
Why should this matter? After all, it’s only a name on a piece of paper. But remember this: Any doubt about the validity of a marriage can have serious repercussions. Disputes over inheritances, for example, have been known to get pretty nasty at times, and a challenge to the validity of a union could certainly be raised during that sort of conflict.
In fact, something similar already happened in Texas when a surviving same-sex spouse made claim to assets left to her by her deceased wife in 2014 and the deceased woman’s family claimed the marriage was not valid because the union pre-dated the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sided with the family, though a judge eventually forced him to abandon that position.
Kim Davis is really bad at doing her job but really good at creating legal chaos. It’s a shame that she now has support from Kentucky’s governor, but none of this will help her achieve her goal of preventing same-sex couples from getting married in Kentucky. The U.S. Supreme Court has already settled that issue.
The latest antics are a distracting sideshow that may end up in court. Meanwhile, Davis’ original lawsuit, in which she claims to have a “religious freedom” right to deny service to same-sex couples, has now reached the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Americans United will be filing a brief, urging the court to reaffirm the obvious idea that Davis’ religious beliefs do not allow her to override citizens’ constitutional right to marry. As before, she has two options: Do her job or resign.