Clerk at center of Kentucky gay marriage dispute freed from jail

Supporters of jailed Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis gather outside the Carter County Detention Center in Grayson, Ky., Tuesday.

GRAYSON, Ky. (KRON/AP) — The Kentucky county clerk who was jailed last week for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, was released on Tuesday.

Kim Davis emerged from the jail house to hundreds of cross-waving supporters. They sang “Amazing Grace” and “God Bless America” as her lawyers refused to say whether she would defy the courts again.

After five days behind bars, U.S. District Judge David Bunning lifted the contempt order against Davis. The move came down just before Davis received jailhouse visits from Republican presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz.

In lifting the order, Judge Bunning said he was satisfied that Rowan County deputies were fulfilling their obligation to grant licenses to same-sex couples in Davis’s absence. But he warned the clerk not to interfere.

A crowd of dozens of sign-carrying, flag-waving supporters gathered on the jailhouse lawn for what they called a rally for religious freedom. That crowd swelled to hundreds as the news of the judge’s action spread.

Davis was thrown in jail on Thursday for the boldest act of resistance by a public official yet to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that effectively legalized gay marriage across the nation.

Citing “God’s authority,” Davis, an Apostolic Christian, stopped issuing all marriage licenses in June after the Supreme Court said gay couples have a constitutional right to marry anywhere in the U.S.

Two gay couples and two heterosexual ones sued her. Bunning ordered Davis to issue the licenses, and the Supreme Court upheld his ruling. But she still refused, and was held in contempt of court and hauled off to jail in handcuffs, igniting protests from members of the religious right.

Davis’s supporters have rallied for days outside the county clerk’s office, at the jail, and even outside the judge’s home.

Five of Davis’ six deputy clerks — all except her son, Nathan Davis — agreed to issue licenses to gay couples with Davis behind bars. In lifting the contempt order, Bunning asked for updates on the five clerks’ compliance every two weeks.

The timing of her release order came as something of a surprise. Last week, Bunning said that he might reconsider his decision to jail her in a week.

Davis’ jailing has offered some of the many GOP presidential candidates an opportunity to appeal to the party’s evangelical Christian wing, which opposes gay marriage and casts Davis’ imprisonment as an issue of religious freedom.

Some observers viewed Tuesday’s jailhouse visits by Huckabee and Cruz with skepticism, dismissing the action as mere political posturing for two low-level candidates.

“Politicians have latched onto the cause of the day for as long as there have been politicians,” said Sam Marcosson, a constitutional law professor at the University of Louisville, who has dismissed claims that religious liberty should exempt Davis from issuing licenses.

“It will do nothing whatsoever for getting Kim Davis out of jail for Mike Huckabee to appear at a rally today. But it will certainly keep the temperature hot, and it brings attention to Mike Huckabee.”

On Monday, Davis’s lawyers took their case to a federal appeals court, asking that Davis be allowed to remove her name and title from marriage certificates issued in Rowan County so that she would not have to act against her conscience.

Casey County Clerk Casey Davis, who recently finished riding a bike more than 400 miles across the state of Kentucky in solidarity with Kim Davis, said he was relieved she was being released. He is not related to her.

“It’s been a total injustice for her being there to begin with,” he said.

But he said he is still not issuing any marriage licenses, and suspects the conflict could come to his county next. He said only one same-sex couple has inquired about a marriage license in his county and was told there were no licenses being issued, and that’s the last Davis heard from them.

He said he, too, would be willing to go to jail.

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