Kentucky Clerk Joined by Local Officials from Alabama, N. Carolina, and Texas Who Say ‘Government Can’t Redefine Natural Marriage

Kim Davis, the Rowan County clerk of courts, shuts her office door after denying a marriage license to a same-sex couple in Morehead, Ky., on Wednesday. (Credit: Ty Wright/Getty Images)
Kim Davis, the Rowan County clerk of courts, shuts her office door after denying a marriage license to a same-sex couple in Morehead, Ky., on Wednesday. (Credit: Ty Wright/Getty Images)

Kim Davis, the Rowan County clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples here, is the best known of them, at least for now.

But there is also Charlie Smoak, a former magistrate in Moore County, N.C. And Nick Williams, a probate judge in Washington County, Ala. And Molly Criner, a clerk in Irion County, Tex., who has declared that “natural marriage cannot be redefined by government.”

All of them have argued that as government employees, they should not be required to recognize same-sex marriage, citing religious objections. And all have turned, for representation, to Liberty Counsel, a legal nonprofit that has been on the front lines of the same-sex marriage fight for roughly two decades.

In some ways, these are tough times for the group, based in Orlando, Fla., which has seen the courts, and Americans in general, warm to the idea of same-sex nuptials. But by offering pro bono counsel to defiant Christian public officials, the self-described legal “ministry” finds itself in demand by social conservatives in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling in June that, for the first time, legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

“I think they’re doing excellent work — they’re standing up to what we see is a new tyranny of judicial supremacy,” said Brian S. Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage, another group that opposes same-sex unions.

Despite the Supreme Court’s landmark 5-to-4 ruling in the same-sex marriage case Obergefell v. Hodges, social conservatives have not given up the fight. With Republican allies in state legislatures, they have been promoting measures that they say would help defend the religious rights of local government officials who oppose such unions.

Liberty Counsel has taken the lead in representing a number of public officials who have refused to recognize the right to same-sex wedlock.

In May, it filed a lawsuit on behalf of a handful of county magistrates in North Carolina, including Mr. Smoak, and argued that they should be exempted from performing same-sex marriages on religious grounds. The suit was withdrawn when the Republican-controlled Legislature overrode a veto by the state’s Republican governor, Pat McCrory, and enacted a law allowing them to refuse to aid such unions.

The group announced in July that it was representing Ms. Criner, the clerk in rural Irion County, Tex., who has also refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Mathew D. Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said that no legal action had been filed thus far, and it is unclear whether gay couples have come forward in the rural county to request a marriage license. (Ms. Criner could not be reached for comment Wednesday.)

In Alabama, Liberty Counsel has for months backed some probate judges who balked at issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and the group in July argued to the State Supreme Court that Alabama did not have to comply with the Obergefell decision. It noted that the Wisconsin Supreme Court refused to follow the high court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision.

As of mid-August, 11 Alabama counties were refusing to issue marriage licenses to all couples.

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The New York Times


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