MOREHEAD, Ky. (Reuters) - The county clerk from Kentucky who was jailed after refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples said Monday on her return to work she will not block her deputies from issuing them but will not authorize them personally, as one couple celebrated a coming marriage.
Shannon and Carmen Wampler-Collins received a marriage license late Monday morning from a deputy clerk as friends and family gathered in the clerk’s office chanted “love has won” and demonstrators opposed to gay marriage shouted in the background.
The couple, now 45 and 46 years old, respectively, had a commitment ceremony 20 years ago and have two sons. They legally changed their name years ago.
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who has said her beliefs as an Apostolic Christian prevent her from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, was jailed for five days earlier this month for refusing to comply with a judge’s order to issue licenses in line with a Supreme Court ruling in June that made gay marriage legal across the United States.
Davis, 49, has been under the threat of returning to jail if she interferes in the issuance of licenses.
Before the county office opened, Davis said she doubted the validity of the licenses to be issued and told a news conference they would not carry her name, title or personal authorization.
Davis said she would take no action against deputy clerks who issued licenses but does not believe they have the authority to do so. The license given to the couple said it was being issued under a federal court order.
“I’m here before you this morning with a seemingly impossible choice that I do not wish on any of my fellow Americans: my conscience or my freedom,” Davis said.
A lawyer for Davis, Harry Mihet, said her attorneys plan to file a lawsuit this week asking a state court judge to force Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear to make an accommodation for Davis.
“The license that went out today does not violate Kim Davis’s conscience,” Mihet told a news conference.
Mihet said the license format was a good faith effort to meet U.S. District Judge David Bunning’s order. He said Bunning had said he would accept some change to the marriage license.
Davis supporters have called for Deputy Clerk Brian Mason, who has been issuing licenses, to be fired.
Critics include Jeff Grubb, an atheist who has lived in Morehead for 30 years and who told a deputy clerk he would stop paying his annual car taxes in protest at Davis’ stance.
“She’s not doing her job, and I’m not going to use my tax money to support ... this county government until they recognize the separation of church and state,” Grubb said.
The issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Kentucky and other states has become the latest focal point in a long-running debate over gay marriage in the United States.
After the Supreme Court decision, Davis announced an office policy that no marriage licenses would be issued to any couples. Some who were denied licenses challenged this.
Bunning ordered Davis jailed for contempt on Sept. 3 for refusing to comply with his order to issue licenses. He ordered her released five days later when deputy clerks were issuing licenses.
In his release order, Bunning warned Davis there would be consequences if she interfered with the issuance of marriage licenses, directly or indirectly, when she returned to work.
Supporters see Davis as being persecuted for her beliefs while opponents say she is abdicating her duties by trying to ban gay marriage when it is now the law of the land.
Davis has asked Beshear, state lawmakers and Bunning to accommodate her beliefs. She has also appealed Bunning’s orders to the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
“I don’t want to have this conflict. I don’t want to be in the spotlight, and I certainly don’t want to be a whipping post,” said Davis, who like the governor is a Democrat.
The Rowan County Rights Coalition has no objection to licenses being issued as Davis described, spokeswoman Mary Hargis said. Davis violated the civil rights of same-sex couples when she chose not to issue marriage licenses, she added.
“She has an excuse as a religious conviction, but when did religious conviction and religious freedom become a shield for bigotry?” Hargis said.
Additional reporting by Peter Cooney; Writing by David Bailey and Fiona Ortiz; Editing by James Dalgleish and Frances Kerry