Discrimination in Social Services

Kentucky’s Governor Loves Kim Davis – But He Doesn’t Want To Pay Her Legal Bills

  Rob Boston

The long-running saga of former Rowan County, Ky., clerk Kim Davis has taken another interesting twist.

In case you’ve forgotten, Davis garnered national headlines after she announced that her office wouldn’t issue marriage licenses for same-sex couple because of her personal religious beliefs. Now, bear in mind that Davis wasn’t refusing to issue the licenses just on behalf of herself; she ordered all of her employees to deny them as well. To avoid granting licenses to same-sex couples, Davis eventually decided that no couples could get them – even though issuing marriage licenses was part of her office’s job.

Davis was upset because the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in 2015 that marriage equality is the law of the land. Rather than do her duty and obey the ruling (or resign if she couldn’t), Davis chose to be a latter-day George Wallace and block the door to the clerk’s office. She even went to jail for a time for defying a federal court’s order that she must resume issuing licenses.

To most Americans, Davis was a fundamentalist zealot with bigoted views who refused to do her job. To the Religious Right, she was a folk hero. Inevitably, the matter went to court. Backed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), four couples sued and won.

At this point, Gov. Matt Bevin and the Kentucky legislature stepped in and agreed to remove the names of county clerks from marriage licenses statewide, so Davis backed off. In November, Rowan County voters decided they’d had enough of her antics and voted her out of office.

But one question remains: Who should pay her legal bills? A few days ago, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that  Bevin, a Republican who backed Davis during her period of massive resistance, instructed his attorneys to file legal documents arguing that the state should not have to pay nearly $225,000 in legal fees that piled up during Davis’ court battle.

The fees in question would be paid to the ACLU, which, by law may recover the money it spent on the case. As much as Bevin celebrated Davis’ stand a few years ago, he’s now making it clear that she broke the law, and that’s her problem. He does not want the state’s taxpayers to get stuck with that bill.

“Her local policy stood in direct conflict with her statutory obligation to issue marriage licenses to qualified Kentucky couples,” wrote Bevin’s attorneys in a court filing. “The local policy also undermined the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s interest in upholding the rule of law.”

Added the attorney, “Davis had an independent and sworn duty to uphold the law as an elected county officer. If fees are awarded, they must be the responsibility of the Rowan County clerk’s office, which should be deterred from engaging in conduct that violates civil rights – and leads to costly litigation.”

Bevin’s now singing a much different tune than the one he warbled while running for governor in 2015. Back then, Bevin portrayed Davis as a hero and a role model.

“Amid all the vitriol, all the nastiness, she stood firm,” Bevin said in a pro-Davis video. “I think it’s beyond question that Kim Davis is an inspiration. Not only to leaders like myself, in the public arena and those outside the public arena, but to my children and to the children of America.”

Americans United warned government officials years ago to keep Davis at arm’s length. Far from being a hero, she’s just a plain old lawbreaker, an extremist who decided that her religion gave her the right to use a taxpayer-funded position to deny others rights that were affirmed by the highest court in the land. Nevertheless, Bevin and several GOP presidential candidates rushed to stand by Davis in an effort to court the Religious Right.

Now that the drama has played out, it’s impossible to feel even a soupçon of sympathy for anyone who willingly jumped into Davis’ vortex of intolerance.

The sad thing is, I suspect that when all is said is done, the taxpayers of Kentucky will get stuck with this tab, even though many of them never supported Davis. For those who did, perhaps this incident will make them think twice before they sign up for another Religious Right sideshow.

Those things cost way more than they’re worth.  

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The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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