GRAYSON, Ky. — “Eye of the Tiger” poured out of the loudspeakers. The crowd cheered. And Kim Davis sobbed, then exulted.
The defiant clerk from Rowan County was free at last, ready to thank a crowd of thousands gathered outside the jailhouse where Davis was held for five days for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
“I just want to give God the glory,” she said Tuesday, not long after a federal judge ordered her release. “Keep on pressing, don’t let down because He is here.”
Her defiance has made her a hero in the eyes of her supporters. And the escalating drama has also drawn the attention of two Republican presidential contenders, Mike Huckabee and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who arrived at the jail Tuesday, shortly before Davis was freed.
Huckabee called Davis a representative from God sent to lead the charge against “judicial tyranny.”
“God showed up,” Huckabee said. “He showed up in the form of an elected Democrat named Kim Davis.”
Davis was jailed at the Carter County Detention Center on Thursday after she refused to comply with a court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The following day, her deputies began issuing the documents in her absence.
As a condition of her release Tuesday, U.S. District Judge David Bunning ordered Davis not to interfere with the issuing of marriage licenses by her office.
“Kim Davis cannot, will not violate her conscience,” her attorney Mat Staver said outside the jail, with Davis by his side. Asked if that meant she would refuse to issue licenses, he promised that people would “find out in the near future.”
He added: “She loves God, she loves people, she loves her work, and she will not betray any of those three.”
Initially, upon emerging from the jailhouse, Davis barely spoke; but when asked whether spending five days in custody was “worth it,” she smiled and nodded her head: Yes.
Huckabee added that if Bunning believes that someone should be jailed for being “willing to stand on the biblical definition of marriage,” then he would be willing to take the place of Davis, who previously said she was operating “under God’s authority.”
“Let Kim go, but if you have to put someone in jail, I volunteer to go,” Huckabee said. “Let me go, lock me up if you think that’s how freedom is best served.”
Five of the six clerks who work under Davis swore under oath last week that they could comply with the court’s order to issue marriage licenses. In a status report filed to Bunning’s court Tuesday, the couples who had filed suit against Davis after she first denied them marriage licenses said they were able to obtain them.
In a two-page order, Bunning said he is satisfied that the county clerk’s office is now complying with the court’s ruling.
He also ordered that Davis “shall not interfere in any way, directly or indirectly, with the efforts of her deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples” in Rowan County. If she does interfere, Bunning wrote, the court will consider “appropriate sanctions.”
The news of the judge’s order was slow to spread outside the Carter County Detention Center, where a crowd gathered on the grass and asphalt for a planned 3 p.m. rally in support of Davis. Some had gathered as early as 8 a.m. and had driven from as far away as Texas, and churches distributed bottled water as the sun beat down.
Following the new order from Bunning, Huckabee arrived at the jail to meet with Davis, who was elected as a Democrat.
After her release, Huckabee praised Davis for being willing to go to jail in order to maintain the “clarity of her conscience.”
In an e-mail to The Washington Post, an attorney who represented the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued Davis on behalf of several gay couples, said the organization achieved what it set out to do.
“The goal was to get Ms. Davis to issue licenses, and to stop imposing her religious beliefs on the citizens she was elected to serve,” attorney Dan J. Canon wrote. “That goal has been achieved, for now.”
He added: “We are hopeful that Ms. Davis will comply with the Court’s orders and let her deputies continue to do their jobs.”
The licenses issued Friday were altered to remove Davis’s name. They now say they are issued in the office of “Rowan County, Rowan County County Clerk.”
But an attorney for Davis argued last week that without Davis’s approval as county clerk, the licenses are invalid.
“They are not worth the paper they’re written on,” Staver said Friday.
The five clerks who complied with the court’s order to issue marriage licenses have now been ordered to file additional status reports to the court every 14 days.
In a statement, LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign said Davis has “no legal basis” to refuse to comply with the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which legalized same-sex marriage.
“The overwhelming majority of public officials across this country are following the law, and history will not judge her kindly,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “It’s far past time for this needless ordeal to end.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Davis’s attorneys had filed a document petitioning a U.S. Circuit Court to overrule Bunning’s contempt order.
Davis, an Apostolic Christian who opposes same-sex marriage, has argued that she is exercising her religious freedom by refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. She has also sought a “remedy” from state officials that would exempt her from the mandate that all Kentucky county clerks issue marriage licenses in the state.
Outside of the jail, her supporters cheered, waved American flags, and carried crosses and signs.
“If this goes through, if the Supreme Court continues to override society and what the majority thinks, then all you’ve got left is tyrannical authority,” said Leonard Stone, 65, a Christian minister from Wolf County, Ky. “She should be released. That’s simple. The Supreme Court doesn’t have the right to write laws. She’s in there unconstitutionally.”
Phillip and Larimer reported from Washington. This post has been updated.