Former Rowan County, Kentucky, Clerk Kim Davis violated two couples’ constitutional rights by refusing to give them marriage licenses after the US Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal in 2015, a federal judge ruled Friday.
Whether she’ll have to pay damages to those now-married couples still must be determined by a jury, though.
Davis made international news and briefly ended up in jail for contempt of court more than six years ago after she refused to give same-sex couples marriage licenses in Eastern Kentucky’s Rowan County despite the Supreme Court’s landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision in June 2015.
In a ruling Friday, US District Court Judge David Bunning said the nation’s highest court determined marriage is a fundamental right under the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution and it is “readily apparent that Davis made a conscious decision to violate” the rights of David Ermold and David Moore and of James Yates and Will Smith.
Bunning’s ruling said Davis, whom voters you as county clerk in 2018, argued the federal court can’t impose certain civil liability on her because it would violate her constitutional right to the free exercise of religion.
“Ultimately, this Court’s determination is simple — Davis cannot use her own constitutional rights as a shield to violate the constitutional rights of others while performing her duties as an elected official,” wrote Bunning, of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky .
The couples in this litigation are seeking compensatory and punitive damages as well as legal fees that gradually mounted during this years-long court battle.
Bunning’s ruling said the plaintiffs’ testimony “at the very least creates a genuine issue of material fact as to whether they are entitled to damages.” For example, Ermold said every time he thinks of her marriage de ella, “I have to think about Kim Davis and the experience, how we were humiliated and treated like less than human beings.”
Yates, another plaintiff, testified that damages would compensate for his and Smith’s “experience with Davis, the resulting publicity, and the threats that were a result of their interactions with Davis.”
The question of whether damages should be awarded will be determined by a jury, per Bunning’s ruling, which said: “It is this Court’s opinion that Davis violated Plaintiffs’ constitutional right to marry and the only remaining issue is the issue of damages.”
The Florida-based organization Liberty Counsel is representing Davis in court and said Friday it will keep arguing she’s not liable for damages.
“This case raises serious First Amendment free exercise of religion claims and has a high potential of reaching the Supreme Court,” Liberty Counsel chairman Mat Staver said in a statement Friday.
Follow Morgan Watkins on Twitter: @morganwatkins26.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism