On July 2, 2015, plaintiffs -- two same sex couples -- filed this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. The plaintiffs, represented by the ACLU of Kentucky, asked the court for both injunctive and declaratory relief, alleging that Davis's refusal to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples violated their rights under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses and the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. The plaintiffs also sought class action certification for all persons similarly situated. The case was assigned to United States District Judge David Bunning.
This case is a direct result of a recent Supreme Court decision, Obergefell v. Hodges, which held that same sex couples had a fundamental right to marry. Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S. Ct. 2584 (2015). Immediately after Obergefell
, the Governor of Kentucky had explicitly instructed all county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. So once this case was filed, Davis filed a third party complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Governor and State Librarian of Kentucky alleging that the Governor's mandate to issue marriage licenses violated her right to religious conscience under the First Amendment.
Arguments in the District Court centered on whether Ms. Davis, as an elected official, had a right to deny same sex marriage licenses as a matter of religious liberty. Judge Bunning found that the instruction by the Governor to issue same-sex marriage licenses was facially neutral as to its implication on any particular religion. The Court therefore found (applying a rational basis test) that the Governor's goal was simply to ensure that the activities of the State of Kentucky were consistent with the jurisprudence of the U.S. Supreme Court. Ms. Davis, therefore, had no relevant protected religious liberty interest.
As a result of this reasoning, on August 12, 2015, Judge Bunning issued a preliminary injunction enjoining the defendant from continuing to refuse marriage licenses to same sex couples. 123 F. Supp. 3d 924 (E.D. Ky. 2015). Davis immediately appealed to the Sixth Circuit. The injunction was temporarily suspended by the District Court until being reinstated on August 31, 2015 when the Sixth Circuit declined to hear the appeal on an emergency basis.
Nonetheless, Davis continued to refuse marriage licenses to same sex couples. After a hearing on September 3, 2015, she was held in contempt of court, and jailed for civil contempt until September 8, 2015, at which time she was released from jail provided that she not interfere with the ongoing issuance of marriage licenses by Rowan County's deputy clerks.
Davis appealed. She also sought an injunction against the Kentucky government prohibiting state authorities from directing her to authorize the issuance of marriage licenses while her appeal was pending at the Sixth Circuit. On September 11, 2015, the court (Judge David L. Bunning) denied Davis's request. 2015 WL 9461520 (E.D. Ky. Sept. 11, 2015). Davis also asked the Sixth Circuit to stay the plaintiffs' injunction against her pending her appeal. On September 17, 2015, the Sixth Circuit denied her request. Finally, Davis asked for an emergency stay of the injunction against her. The district denied this request and the Sixth Circuit affirmed. 2015 WL 9460311 (E.D. Ky. Sept. 23, 2015).
The Sixth Circuit held oral argument on Davis's appeal on January 20, 2016, but no decision has been issued yet.
When Davis had returned to work, after she was released from jail, she changed the forms that they used to issue marriage licenses. Worried that these forms would not be considered valid, the plaintiffs filed a motion to enforce the injunction against Davis and require her to use the old forms. However, on February 9, 2016, the district court denied the plaintiffs' request as moot because the forms were valid and same-sex marriage licenses were being issued by the office.
As of April 2, 2016, litigation in the district court and the Sixth Circuit is ongoing. Sarah Prout - 09/17/2015
Jessica Kincaid - 04/02/2016