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Marriage Equality

Kim Davis's Fight Against Marriage Equality to Cost Kentucky Over $200K

Kim Davis

A federal judge today ordered the state to cover the fees for lawyers representing the couples who sued Davis when she shut down marriage license operations.

Kim Davis's fight against marriage equality is going to cost the state of Kentucky $222,695.

U.S. District Judge David Bunning, the same one who found Davis in contempt of court for her failure to issue marriage licenses, today ordered the state to pay the fees for attorneys who represented couples who sued when she shut down marriage license operations in Rowan County, The Courier-Journal of Louisville reports.

Davis, the elected clerk of Rowan County, ceased issuing licenses rather than serve same-sex couples after the Supreme Court ruled for nationwide marriage equality in 2015. The lawsuit by a variety of couples led Bunning to order her to restore marriage license operations, and when she refused, she was jailed for five days for contempt of court. She was released after deputy clerks began issuing licenses to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

Bunning's ruling that the state should pay the American Civil Liberties Union attorneys who represented the couples was in keeping with a federal law that allows fees to be awarded to the prevailing parties in civil rights suits, The Courier-Journal reports. A magistrate judge had denied the claim for fees, contending the plaintiffs hadn't really prevailed, as the state has now passed a law removing clerks' names from marriage license forms -- something Davis had requested so her name didn't have to be associated with marriages that conflict with her conservative Christian beliefs.

In overriding the magistrate's ruling, Bunning "found that the plaintiffs got what they wanted -- an injunction requiring her office to begin issuing licenses again," the Louisville newspaper reports.

The ACLU's Kentucky affiliate praised Bunning's decision. "It is unfortunate that Kentucky taxpayers will likely bear the financial burden of the unlawful actions and litigation strategies of an elected official, but those same voters are free to take that information into account at the ballot box," legal director William Sharp said in a prepared statement.

Bunning found that the state rather than the county was responsible for the fees because marriages are regulated primarily by the state, and Davis wasn't personally responsible because she was acting in her official capacity.

Davis's attorney, Mat Staver of the right-wing group Liberty Counsel, expressed relief that Davis was not held liable but said the state should not have to pay the fees either. "The part of the ruling that finds the plaintiffs were prevailing parties is contrary to the law because the legislature mooted the case by passing a law that provides for the precise religious liberty accommodation Kim Davis sought," he said in a press release.

He predicted that the state would appeal this part of the ruling, but a spokesman for Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin told The Courier-Journal no decision on an appeal had been made.

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