FRANKFORT, Kentucky — The American Civil Liberties Union says a Kentucky county clerk's office should reissue altered marriage licenses even though the governor has promised to recognize them as valid.
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis stopped issuing marriage licenses after a U.S. Supreme Court decision effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. Two gay couples and two straight couples sued her. Davis lost and spent five days in jail for refusing to obey a judge's order. Her deputies issued the licenses in her absence. When she got out of jail, she altered the marriage licenses to remove her name and the county's name, arguing it cleared her conscience.
Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear told U.S. District Judge David Bunning the altered marriage licenses do not comply with state law. But he promised to recognize them as valid, arguing it was not the couples' fault that Davis changed the licenses.
But lawyers for the four couples on Friday noted that Beshear also said he does not have the authority to declare the licenses valid. They said one of the four couples that sued Davis — Jody Fernandez and Kevin Holloway — are not married yet. The straight couple was able to get a marriage license earlier this year, but they decided to delay their wedding for personal reasons. The licenses are only good for 30 days, so they need to get another one.
"They fear that a marriage solemnized pursuant to an altered license could later be held invalid at some unknown time in the future, such as if something were to happen to one of them," the attorneys wrote.
The attorneys called the altered marriage licenses "a stamp of animus against gay people" and said Davis' personal religious beliefs mean "all marriage license applicants in Rowan County — including heterosexual couples, such as Fernandez and Holloway — are forced to bear the burden of Davis' animus against gay people."
Mat Staver, Davis' attorney, has said Beshear's promise to recognize the marriage licenses means "there is no reason for Judge Bunning to act." And he noted that Beshear will leave office next month, to be replaced by Republican Gov.-elect Matt Bevin, who has promised to issue an executive order to remove the names of county clerks from marriage licenses. Staver said that move would "protect the religious convictions and conscience of Kim Davis."
But the ACLU attorneys argued Bevin's executive order would "actually increase the uncertainty" because state law requires county clerks' names to appear on the licenses. The state legislature would have to change the law to remove it.