Why was Kim Davis at the State of the Union address?

The Liberty Counsel, which represents Ms. Davis, said she would attend the speech to oppose the Administration's 'trampling of religious liberty.' The Kentucky county clerk has become a hero for same-sex marriage opponents. 

Carlos Barria/ Reuters
Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis (center) attends President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address on January 12, 2016. Ms. Davis was jailed for five days in 2015 for refusing to issue marriage licenses after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage.

Kim Davis attended the State of the Union to "encourage" Christians who want to "make a difference," the Kentucky county clerk told Agence France-Presse as she exited the House chambers last night.

What did she think?

"It was a speech," she shrugged to AFP's Ivan Courrone. 

Ms. Davis, who spent five days in jail last September following her refusal to issue marriage licenses after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage throughout the country, has become a hero for those who believe their religious liberty has come under attack during President Obama's time in the White House, particularly in granting legal protections to same-sex couples.

During her legal ordeal, the longtime Democrat also became a Republican, saying her "party left me," according to Liberty Counsel spokeswoman Charla Bansley. 

"Kim will be in the gallery tonight as a counterweight to the President's message. She is representing many Americans who have been adversely affected by the President's policies, specifically this Administration's trampling of religious liberty," Ms. Bansley told CNN on Tuesday.

At the time, Bansley refused to say who had invited the Rowan County clerk. For decades, presidents have invited guests to sit in the First Lady's box during the speech, which typically cite their personal stories to highlight policy accomplishments and goals. Members of Congress may also bring a guest.

Later that day, the office of Republican Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus, confirmed that he had invited Davis.

"Our staff heard from the Family Research Council that Ms. Davis and her family hoped to attend the State of the Union address and so we offered a ticket," an aide said. 

One of President Obama's nearly two dozen guests, announced ahead of time, likely caught Davis's attention: Jim Obergfell, the lead plaintiff in the case which led to the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision to extend same-sex marriage throughout the country. 

"There are days like this when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt," Obama said on June 26, 2015, the day of the ruling. "This ruling is a victory for America." 

In Tuesday's State of the Union, however, Obama's references to same-sex marriage were more subtle. 

"Our unique strengths as a nation" have "made the progress of these past seven years possible," he said:

It’s how we recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations. It’s how we reformed our health care system, and reinvented our energy sector; how we delivered more care and benefits to our troops and veterans, and how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love.

In a statement announcing Davis's attendance, her attorney Mat Staver wrote, "For seven years, people of faith have been in the crosshairs of the Obama Administration. The state of religious liberty is dire, but we cannot give up." Mr. Staver encouraged "all people of faith to get involved" in politics, saying that Davis's story shows "God can and will use anyone who is committed to Him."

Newly-elected Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, has removed county clerks' names from the state's marriage licenses in an effort to avoid future conflicts like Davis's. The clerk claimed that putting her name on same-sex marriage licenses, regardless of whether she personally issued the license, would violate her religious beliefs against same-sex marriage. Davis attends an Apostolic pentecostal church. 

She was jailed in September after refusing to comply with Federal District Court Judge David Bunning's orders to resume issuing licenses. Judge Bunning wrote that the elected clerk "has arguably [violated the First Amendment] by openly adopting a policy that promotes her own religious convictions at the expense of others." 

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