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Three Kentucky Counties Still Holding Out on Marriage Equality

Three Kentucky Counties Still Holding Out on Marriage Equality

County clerks in at least three Kentucky counties have stopped issuing marriage licenses to any couples, in defiance of the Supreme Court's Friday ruling that ordered all 50 states to embrace marriage equality.

Clerks in Rowan, Casey, and Owsley counties are continuing to deny marriage licenses to all couples, reports Louisville's Courier-Journal. Under the threat of legal action, Montgomery and Lawrence county clerks reversed an earlier decision (reported Tuesday) to defy the Supreme Court's ruling, and are now reportedly issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. 

Kentucky's Democratic governor and attorney general have both instructed county clerks statewide to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples or face possible legal consequences, but some state employees are still resisting, citing personal religious convictions opposing marriage equality. 

Most legal experts — including Casey County Attorney Thomas Weddle — have cautioned that clerks refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples could be found in contempt of court, which "would subject the county to unacceptable financial risks from litigation," according to the Courier-Journal.

Nevertheless, Casey County Clerk Casey Davis told the newspaper he will continue to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples, asking Gov. Steve Beshear to "extend to county clerks the same courtesy he extended to Attorney General Jack Conway when his conscience would not allow him to defend" the state's ban on same-sex marriage.

After a federal court found Kentucky's ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional last year, Conway, a Democrat, announced that he would no longer defend the state's ban in court, though Gov. Beshear, also a Democrat, did hire outside counsel and pursued an appeal. 

That appeal ultimately ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court, as Kentucky's marriage ban was at the center of one of the consolidated cases heard by the Court and decided in Friday's landmark pro-equality decision known as Obergefell v. Hodges

Despite pro-equality protestors picketing the Rowan County Clerk's Office Tuesday, Clerk Kim Davis told the Courier-Journal that she was standing by her religious convictions, and would not issue marriage licenses to any couple, if she had to also issue them to same-sex couples. 

Meanwhile, the Louisville paper notes that  several justices and judge-executives in at least three counties have recused themselves from solemnizing marriage ceremonies, to avoid running afoul of personal religious convictions against same-sex marriage. 

As the Courier-Journal reports: 

"State law says that judges, justices and judge-executives may solemnize marriages, but it doesn't require them to do so. The law also allows justices of the peace to perform marriages.

"In Jefferson County, two of them — Gary Fields and George Hunter — say they are presiding over same-sex weddings, but a third, Samuel L. Whitlow, said he is 'recusing' himself from such civil ceremonies on account of his religious beliefs. Whitlow is also pastor of Calvary Missionary Baptist Church.

"Whitlow said he has been advised by private lawyers that it is permissible for him to turn down gay couples as long as other justices of the peace are willing to preside over their weddings. He said he'll continue to do so 'until something else comes down the pike.'"

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