Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis refused to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples based on “God’s authority,” but she’s now facing a much more earthly power: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.
In June 2015 — shortly after Davis was elected to serve as Rowan County Clerk — the U.S. Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage to be constitutional nationwide. That same day, Kentucky’s then-Gov. Steven Beshear ordered all of the state’s county clerks to begin issuing marriage certificates to same-sex couples. But when David Ermold and David Moore, a couple of 17 years, walked into Davis’s office in early July and asked for a license, she refused to issue one. She ultimately stopped issuing any marriage licenses at all in protest of the Supreme Court ruling, citing her religious beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman.
Days later, Ermold and Moore — who filmed their repeated attempts to get a license from Davis — filed a lawsuit against Davis. And on Tuesday, after nearly two years of legal and political wrangling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit court ruled that the pair can sue Davis for damages.
The court’s ruling reverses a U.S. district judge’s August decision to dismiss the couple’s case, which cited a new Kentucky law that removes of any mention of the clerk’s name on marriage licenses in order to avoid potentially signalling an “endorsement by the county clerk of same-sex marriage.” But the federal appeals court found that this change in policy didn’t erase the harms Ermold and Moore may have already suffered at Davis’s hands, and ruled their lawsuit can go forward.
“Ermold and Moore did not seek an injunction — they sought only damages,” the appeals court ruling reads. “This action is not a general challenge to Davis’s policy, but rather seeks damages for a particularized harm allegedly suffered by a specific set of plaintiffs.”
The case will now head back to the U.S. district judge for a final determination on whether Davis owes Ermold and Moore damages. “We’re going to get damages, I’m sure of that,” the couple’s attorney, Michael J. Gartland, told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “There’s been no discovery yet. I can’t imagine it’s a huge amount of damages, but there are damages.”
In the meantime, despite a series of legal challenges — and a brief spell in jail for contempt of court — Davis remains the Rowan County Clerk.