February 2024 Church & State Magazine - February 2024

Former Ky. clerk must pay $260,000 for denying same-sex marriage licenses


Kim Davis, a former Rowan County, Ky., clerk who became a Christian Nationalist celebrity after she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and was briefly imprisoned for her tacitly homophobic, discriminatory denial, has been fined $260,000. But her attorneys plan to appeal and hope to use the case to overturn marriage equality.

A federal judge ruled last month that Davis must pay the money in attorneys’ fees and other expenses to one of the law firms that represented a couple that sued Davis.

Davis: Facing steep fines (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)

Davis was serving as chief clerk of Rowan County in 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that denying same-sex couples the right to marry violated the due-process and equal-protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The decision had the effect of extending marriage equality nationwide.

But Davis refused to abide by the decision, citing her personal religious objections to same-sex marriage. Not only did she refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but she also ordered her subordinates to deny them as well.

Two couples sued. In 2018, voters removed Davis from office, but the litigation continued. In 2022, U.S. District Judge David L. Bunning ruled that Davis did not have the right to refuse service to the couples, and that she had violated their rights. Her attorneys then sought to recover attorneys’ fees.

Bunning held that the $260,000 figure is reasonable, ruling that the attorneys are entitled to “a fully compensatory fee” for their services.

Davis has been represented by Liberty Counsel, a Christian Nationalist legal group and member of the Shadow Network of organizations working to undermine church-state separation.

Mathew Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel, vowed to appeal Bunning’s ruling and use it as a vehicle to gut marriage equality.

“On appeal, we will not only request the jury verdict be set aside due to lack of evidence to support a damages claim, we will also argue Kim Davis is protected by the First Amendment Freedom of Religion Clause,” Staver said in a media statement. “And we will argue that the 2015 case of Obergefell v. Hodges should be overruled. Only two of the original five justices remain on the bench. Chief Justice John Roberts filed a strong dissent to the case, along with Thomas and Alito. Obergefell is on very thin ice and lacks any legal precedent or foundation.”

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