A federal appeals court has upheld a ruling ordering a Kentucky county clerk to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis objects to same-sex marriage for religious reasons. She stopped issuing marriage licenses the day after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned state bans on same-sex marriage.
Two straight couples and two gay couples sued her. A U.S. district judge ordered Davis to issue the marriage licenses, but later delayed his order so that Davis could have time to appeal to the 6th circuit. Wednesday, the appeals court denied Davis' request for a stay.
"It cannot be defensibly argued that the holder of the Rowan County Clerk's office, apart from who personally occupies that office, may decline to act in conformity with the United States Constitution as interpreted by a dispositive holding of the United States Supreme Court," judges Damon J. Keith, John M. Rogers and Bernice B. Donald wrote for the court. "There is thus little or no likelihood that the Clerk in her official capacity will prevail on appeal."
April Miller and Karen Roberts were one of the gay couples who sued Davis. Miller read the ruling on her phone in the living room of the house they share down a country road on the outskirts of Morehead. Roberts, her partner for more than a decade, peered over her shoulder, smiling, humming, tears welling up under her glasses.
The news flashes across their TV screen and they hugged, and their hug turned into a brief slow dance on the living room rug. The phone started ringing, but they ignored it for a minute.
They felt vindicated, they said. They got out the boxes holding their matching wedding bands, bought days after the Supreme Court's decision in June. They are simple white gold bands, ringed in diamonds.
"One step closer," Miller said. "We might be able to get married in September."
Mat Staver, an attorney for Davis, said he was disappointed with the ruling. He said he plans to discuss options with Davis, including an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"The court of appeals did not provide any religious accommodation rights to individuals, which makes little sense because at the end of the day it's individuals that are carrying out the acts of the office," Staver said. "They don't lose their individual constitutional rights just because they are employed in a public office."
It's unclear how Davis will react if she were to ultimately lose her appeals. She testified in federal court last month she would "deal with that when the time comes." Saturday, she spoke to thousands of supporters at a religious freedom rally at the state capitol, saying: "I need your prayers ... to continue to stand firm in what we believe."
"Regardless of what any man puts on a piece of paper, the law of nature is not going to change," Davis told the crowd.
Miller and Roberts said they know the legal fight will stretch on. Davis continued to refuse to issue marriage licenses after other judges' rulings. And they suspect she will continue to refuse after this one.
"We get all excited. But we know a letdown is coming again," Miller said. "It's going to keep going. It's gonna be a long haul."
"But it felt so good for a minute," Roberts chimed in.
Beam reported from Frankfort, Ky.