Upon her election to the role of Rowan County Clerk in November 2014, Kim Davis said she felt “humbled” and “blessed.” Speaking to the Morehead News, she made three promises: “I promise to each and every one that I will be the very best working clerk that I can be and will be a good steward of their tax dollars and follow the statutes of this office to the letter.”
Davis’s willingness, or unwillingness, to follow those statutes are now the subject of intense national focus. She has refused on religious grounds to grant marriage licenses — to both same-sex or opposite-sex couples — in the wake of June’s historic Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.
On Tuesday, after the Supreme Court denied her request to put on hold a judicial order that she end her “no marriage licenses” policy, she still continued to turn away couples.
“Under whose authority are you not issuing marriage licenses?” a local gay man seeking to marry asked Davis.
Turning directly to face him and look into his eyes, she sternly replied, “under God’s authority.”
Signing marriage licenses is one of the main duties for the county clerk. But Davis, a 49-year-old Apostolic Christian, objects to having to put her name on documents that recognize same-sex marriages.
There are two Apostolic Pentecostal churches in Morehead. According to websites of Apostolic Pentecostal churches not based in Morehead, followers believe in a highly literal interpretation of the Bible as “the inspired and infallible Word of God.”
“We believe and teach in the highest possible standard of moral living, and that all forms of unnatural sexuality is condemned by The Holy Scriptures,” according to one Kentucky Apostolic Pentecostal church. “Therefore, those who are involved in any immoral or deviant behavior — such as homosexuality, fornication, adultery, or such like — will be disqualified from holding any office in the Church, unless or until they have ‘truly’ repented and experienced complete deliverance.”
As for many Christians, marriage is sacred to Apostolic Pentecostals, who believe it should be reserved exclusively for opposite-sex couples. Believers are discouraged from marrying non-believers. “We believe that when a couple unites in marriage, they should remain as long as both lives,” according to one Californian Apostolic Pentecostal church.
Davis has said she “went to church” four years ago after the death of her mother-in-law and “heard a message of grace and forgiveness and surrendered my life to Jesus Christ.”
According to Rowan County records obtained by BuzzFeed News, Davis has been divorced three times. When she married Joe Davis on Aug. 24, 2009, it was her fourth marriage — and her second to Joe, whom she previously married on the same day 13 years earlier in a Baptist church. After her first Baptist marriage to Dwain Wallace in 1984, she married Thomas McIntyre Jr. in 2007 in between her marriages to Joe Davis.
She says her religious convictions remain strong. In July she testified in court that she had sought out God, prayed, and fasted as she contemplated whether she would sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples — before ultimately concluding she would not. “If I say they are authorized, I’m saying I agree with it, and I can’t,” Davis told the court.
Since losing in trial court, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court have both rejected requests from Davis to keep her “no marriages licenses” policy in place while she appeals the decision. “In light of the binding holding of Obergefell,” the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote, “it cannot be defensibly argued that the holder of the Rowan County Clerk’s office, apart from who personally occupies that office, may decline to act in conformity with the United States Constitution as interpreted by a dispositive holding of the United States Supreme Court.”
Davis’s lawyer didn’t return a request for comment. In a statement released Tuesday, she said, “some people have said I should resign, but I have done my job well.”
She added, “I never imagined a day like this would come, where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage. To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience.”
Davis has worked as a clerk in Rowan County for more than 25 years. In May 2014 — while serving as chief deputy in the clerk’s office — she narrowly won the Democratic nomination for the top job by 23 votes.
“The public is my boss,” she told the Morehead News during last year’s general election. “Being a public servant is ingrained in me and I want [to] continue providing the high level of customer service we do while treating people with respect, kindness, and helping them with whatever situation they have.”
Public service is a tradition in her family. When she won last year’s general election, she took over from her mother, Jean Bailey, who had served in the job for 37 years.
And Davis’s son, Nathan, began working in the Rowan County Clerk’s office in January.
During the election, Davis promised voters what what she had learned from her mother would ensure a “seamless transition with no break in services” to the citizens of Rowan County. “Licenses, taxes, election-related activities, and all of our other services cannot stop or slow down,” she told the Morehead News.
However, she prefaced the promise by acknowledging she couldn’t predict what the future would hold: “I am not a politician and I do not make political promises that I may not be able to achieve and I do not think that I know every situation that may happen but I do know how to maintain this office,” she told the newspaper.
“I will continue to be on the front line, ever present, and continue to serve with compassion and dedication.”
This article has been corrected to include references to the Apostolic Pentecostal Christian church, which has two churches in Morehead. A previous version of this article incorrectly referenced a different denomination of Apostolic Christianity.
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