U.S. News

Kentucky governor OKs removing clerks' names from marriage licenses

Matt Bevin talks with his campaign supporters at his campaign headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky, May 19, 2014. REUTERS/John Sommers II

LOUISVILLE (Reuters) - Kentucky’s governor on Wednesday signed into law a bill that removes county clerks’ names from the state marriage license forms at the center of a controversy involving an official jailed last year for refusing to issue licenses to gay couples.

Senate Bill 216, signed by Republican Governor Matt Bevin, also creates a single form that either heterosexual or same-sex couples can use. Applicants can choose between being called bride, groom or spouse.

“We now have a single form that accommodates all concerns. Everyone benefits from this common sense legislation,” Bevin said in an emailed statement. “There is no additional cost or work required by our county clerks. They are now able to fully follow the law without being forced to compromise their religious liberty.”

Last summer, Kentucky drew international attention and demonstrations after Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis refused to issue licenses to gay couples following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage.

In the days after the ruling, Davis cited her Apostolic Christian beliefs defining marriage as a union exclusively reserved for heterosexual couples for her stand. Even though county clerks do not perform marriage ceremonies in Kentucky, she argued that her name on the document equaled her approval.

Four couples sued Davis in federal court for her refusal to do her job, and a judge ruled her in contempt of court and jailed her for five days. After being released, Davis would not let her name appear on such licenses, requiring her deputies to use the title notary public on the form.

While the plaintiffs raised concerns about such changes, state officials said the licenses would be deemed valid.

Bevin, who won election last year thanks to many of Davis’ supporters, campaigned on making changes to the form and issued an executive order just weeks after being inaugurated last December. The bill, whose final version was passed unanimously in both chambers, codified Bevin’s order.

After the senate vote on April 1, Michael Aldridge, executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, welcomed a move that created a uniform license for everyone. The ACLU chapter represents the couples suing Davis in court.

Reporting by Steve Bittenbender, Editing by Ben Klayman and Alan Crosby