GRAYSON, Ky. (Reuters) - Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses, walked out of jail on Tuesday after a federal judge who found her in contempt said he was satisfied licenses were being issued in accordance with a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
U.S. District Judge David Bunning ordered her release after six days in jail, saying she “shall not interfere in any way, directly or indirectly, with the efforts of her deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples.”
The issue of same-sex marriage licenses in Kentucky and other states has become the latest focal point in the long-running debate over gay marriage in the United States.
The Supreme Court’s decision in late June legalized it in all 50 states, but a small number of elected clerks and lower level judges have voiced opposition on religious grounds. Some in Texas, Alabama and elsewhere have refused to issue licenses to anyone, gay or straight.
In Rowan County, Kentucky, where Davis is the clerk, five of her six deputies issued licenses to several same sex-couples while she was in jail.
If she interferes with the deputies, she will have violated the order and could face sanctions, Bunning said.
Hours after the judge’s order, Davis climbed a podium in front of the Carter County Detention Center with her husband Joe, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and lawyer Mathew Staver.
As loud speakers blared the rock band Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”, the music theme to the Rocky III boxing movie, they held their hands up in triumph.
Greeted by roughly 4,000 singing and shouting supporters, an emotional Davis thanked everyone and said: “I just want to give God his glory.”
Staver said Davis is considering what day this week to return to her $80,000-a-year job, but that she has not changed her mind on issuing licenses. That leaves open the question on whether Davis could be brought back before Bunning.
“We likely could be because nothing has been remedied, nothing has been solved by the situation,” Staver told Reuters.
“She will do her job good and she will serve the people as they want her to serve. She will also be loyal to God and she is not going to violate her conscience,” Staver, the founder of Christian religious advocacy group Liberty Counsel, told the crowd.
He added that Davis would continue to ask for an accommodation to remove her name and her authority from the marriage certificates.
Huckabee called her a “brave lady” for her willingness to go to jail for what she believed.
Another Republican president hopeful, Ted Cruz, was seen entering and leaving the detention center. Both candidates are running far behind billionaire businessman Donald Trump in the early opinion polls for the Republican nomination in the November 2016 presidential election.
“Well I saw where Mr. Huckabee was coming into town and I’m assuming he is trying to generate some publicity because the last polls... But I really don’t think this is going to help him much in any way,” Democratic Governor of Kentucky Steve Beshear told reporters after a speech in Lexington.
A significant majority of Americans, 59 percent, in a recent Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll say government officials should issue licenses regardless of their religious beliefs. The poll of 1,211 adults taken Sept. 5-8 showed 29.8 percent disagreed. It had a credibility interval of 3.2 percentage points.
Davis’ case is a setback for religious conservatives who oppose same-sex marriage.
State Representative David Hale, a Republican and Davis supporter who attended the rally, said he will push for legislation to take marriage licenses out of the hands of county clerks and move it to the Office of Vital Statistics.
Not everyone in the crowd was a Davis supporter.
“I am only OK with it if she agrees to do her job,” said Beth Baker of Grayson.
As an Apostolic Christian, Davis says she believes a marriage can only be between a man and a woman. She has refused to issue any marriage licenses since the U.S. Supreme Court in June made same-sex marriages legal across the United States.
Davis, who is nine days shy of her 50th birthday, was ordered into custody by Bunning on Sept. 3 after continuing to defy his order to issue the licenses.
Bunning secured the assurances of five of six deputy clerks who stated under oath that they would comply with the court’s orders and issue licenses to all legally eligible couples.
The deputies will need to file status reports every 14 days to prove they are in compliance, the order said.
Davis, a Democrat, was elected to her position in November 2014 after 27 years as deputy clerk of Rowan County. She took over the office from her mother, who served for 37 years. Her son Nathan, a deputy clerk, was the only one not to pledge compliance with the judge’s orders.
Additional reporting by Jonathan Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; and Maurice Tamman in New York; Writing by Daniel Bases; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Lisa Shumaker