ASHLAND, Ky. (CN) — Former Kentucky clerk Kim Davis violated the rights of two same-sex couples when she denied them marriage licenses according to a federal judge's ruling on Friday.
U.S. District Judge David Bunning issued his ruling for a pair of cases against Davis on Friday, finding that she was not immune to the lawsuits and had clearly violated the constitutional rights of the couples.
“Defendant Davis violated Plaintiffs’ constitutional right to marry by refusing to issue them marriage licenses, either personally or through the policy she established for the Rowan County Clerk’s office,” wrote Bunning, a George W. Bush nominee.
The matter began in June of 2015 after the United States Supreme Court handed down the landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges in which they ruled that same-sex couples could no longer be denied the right to get legally married.
Davis who was then the Rowan County Clerk, refused to comply with the Supreme Court decision and directed her employees to not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
According to court documents, the plaintiffs in both cases governed by Friday’s ruling attempted to obtain marriage licenses from the Rowan County Clerk’s office on multiple occasions but were denied, with the plaintiffs in one case being told that Davis could not give them a marriage license “under God’s authority.” The couples filed their lawsuits in July and August of 2015.
Eventually the couples obtained their marriage licenses from a deputy clerk while Davis was in jail for contempt for not following a court order to issue marriage licenses to all qualifying couples. In 2018, Davis would lose her re-election for the Rowan County clerkship.
Davis had argued to the court that she was entitled to immunity against the lawsuits because she was a government employee, but Bunning found that she was acting in her personal capacity and knowingly violated the constitutional rights of the couples.
“The explicit holding in Obergefell was that states could not exclude same-sex couples from civil marriage. The logical next step is clear. Davis, an elected county official who was tasked by her constituents to manage marriage licensing in Rowan County, could not exclude same-sex couples from civil marriage,” Bunning wrote. “The question is simple—did Davis knowingly violate the law? The answer here is clear—yes. Davis is therefore not entitled to qualified immunity.”
Bunning’s ruling now paves the way for a determination on what damages are owed to the plaintiffs, a decision that will be left up to a jury.
“The clients couldn’t be more pleased that after almost seven years of Kim Davis wasting time, by filing ridiculous appeals, that they are actually going to get to see the inside of a courtroom and have a jury assess damages against her, potentially punitive damages,” said the plaintiffs' attorney Michael Gartland.
Liberty Counsel, the organization that represented Davis, said in a press release that the case could head to the Supreme Court.
“Kim Davis is entitled to protection to an accommodation based on her sincere religious belief. This case raises serious First Amendment free exercise of religion claims and has a high potential of reaching the Supreme Court,” said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel.
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