MOREHEAD, KENTUCKY — Something was missing from the marriage licenses obtained by same-sex couples on Friday in Rowan County: the name of Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who was jailed on Thursday for contempt of court. According to Kentucky state law, marriage licenses must be issued by the clerk for the county in which they are issued.
In the field where Davis’s name normally appears on licenses, her staff on Friday substituted the words “Rowan County.” As a result of the change and Davis's insistence that she does not authorize the licenses, staffers and even one couple who obtained a marriage license questioned whether the licenses were valid.
Robbie Blankenship and Jesse Cruz showed their license to BuzzFeed News. When asked where Davis's name appeared, Blankenship said, “Her name is not on there? Does that mean it’s not valid?”
Brian Mason, the deputy clerk who issued the license to the couple minutes before, told BuzzFeed News that Davis's name had appeared in that field in all 99 licenses issued before the Supreme Court's marriage equality decision in June. “Her name goes there, yeah," Mason said. “But she is not here. I don't have her permission. I don’t have her consent.” He would not comment on who instructed him to replace her name with the words "Rowan County."
However, Chief Deputy Roberta Eaerly told BuzzFeed News, "As a group we decided to issue [the licenses] from Rowan County.”
Asked what gave staff the authority to omit Davis's name, Earley said, “I have no other comment.”
Davis' name on the forms is central to an ongoing dispute in federal court. Davis has argued she has a religious objection to her name appearing on the marriage licenses of same-sex couples. So instead, Davis barred all six of her deputies from issuing marriage licenses to anybody, because state law says the clerk is required to issue all marriage licenses.
Davis was jailed Thursday for refusing to issue licenses in accordance with an August 12 order from U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning. After Davis was arrested, five of her deputies told Judge Bunning they would issue the licenses. However, Bunning acknowledged in court that he did not know if a license issued without Davis's consent "is valid or not ... I am not saying it is or it isn’t.”
Kentucky law requires the county clerk to issue marriage licenses. “The license shall be issued by the clerk of the county …” the statute states. But on the licenses issued Friday, the forms state: “Issued ... in the office of Rowan County.” Normally they state, “Issued in the office of” and include the name of the clerk, Davis.
A lawyer for Davis said Friday that the licenses issued without her consent are void, the AP reported.
Mason told BuzzFeed News that in Thursday’s contempt-of-court hearing, Judge Bunning acknowledged it was unclear if licenses issued without Davis’s authority were valid. “That is why the judge said marriage licenses may not be valid,” Mason said. “We don’t know. No one could give us an answer.”
Dominic Holden is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Dominic Holden at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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