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Lawyers for Ky. clerk seek new way to block marriage licenses

MOREHEAD, Ky. — Lawyers for a county court clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling that allows same-sex couples to wed filed an emergency motion Wednesday to block an order from the Kentucky governor.

The motion asks U.S. District Judge David Bunning to stop enforcement of Gov. Steve Beshear’s order requiring county clerks to issue marriage licenses to gay couples while Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis’ case is on appeal to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

A spokeswoman for Liberty Counsel, the Orlando-based law firm that represents Davis, could not immediately explain the intent of the motion or whether it is designed to avert a contempt hearing set for Thursday at which Bunning could jail or fine Davis for failing to process the documents.

Lawyers for two gay and two straight couples who have sued Davis could not be reached for comment. Davis filed a claim in that suit against the governor saying his order violates her religious liberty as guaranteed under the state and federal constitutions and the state’s religious freedom restoration act.

In the injunction motion, Davis said she wouldn’t object to another county official issuing marriages licenses in Rowan County, as long as they are not issued with her signature.

But under Kentucky law, that’s the rub: Issuing marriage licenses is a required duty for a county clerk in this state and at least two other county clerks in Kentucky have followed Davis’ lead with less publicity.

In Alabama, for example, the law states that probate judges “may” issue the licenses rather than “shall,” so as of mid-July at least nine counties had shuttered their marriage-license operations with no date for relaunching them, according to The Associated Press.

In Granbury, Texas, a federal court in July compelled Hood County Clerk Katie Lang to issue a license to Granbury residents Joe Stapleton and Jim Cato; Texas law also requires clerks to record marriage licenses. By the time the case was settled, county taxpayers had to foot a $43,000 bill, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Lang still doesn’t agree with same-sex marriage and says so on her website but is allowing deputies in her office to issue the licenses, something that Davis objects to because the certificates bear her name as an elected official.

“It is not a light issue for me,” Davis said Tuesday through her lawyers, the Orlando-based Liberty Counsel. “It is a Heaven or Hell decision.”

On Thursday, Davis and her deputies are being summoned to an 11 a.m. hearing before Bunning in Ashland, Ky., about an hour away from this city of 7,000 in eastern Kentucky. On Wednesday morning, she stepped out of her office for only a moment to say she won’t comment on the fray that has drawn international attention.

Mike Wynn contributed to this report.

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