A federal judge who jailed a Kentucky county clerk over her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples has signed off on her decision to remove her name from the document.
In an order issued late Tuesday, District Judge David L. Bunning said Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis had not gotten in the way of her office issuing marriage licenses. Even though she struck her name from the templates shortly after being released from jail, “there is every reason to believe that any altered licenses issued between September 14, 2015 and September 20, 2015 would be recognized as valid under Kentucky law,” he wrote in the order.
The decision brings a measure of closure to a legal battle that continues to drag on but had been closely watched last year, after the Supreme Court declared that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed. Davis grabbed headlines after refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, which she said would violate her Apostolic Christian faith. Bunning held Davis in contempt for her actions and ordered her jailed, but released her five days later after she pledged not to interfere with other members of her office issuing marriage licenses.
Upon her release, Davis revised the marriage license form to remove her name and other language. The American Civil Liberties Union objected, saying the alterations could raise questions about the validity of the marriage licenses down the line. For example, the alterations could have consequences for child custody battles or property inheritance if a future court deems the marriage licenses invalid.
“We are heartened by Judge Bunning’s statement that couples who received altered marriage licenses will likely have those licenses honored in the future, but unfortunately, it will require a decision from the Kentucky courts to determine conclusively whether or not the altered licenses are valid,” ACLU staff attorney Ria Tabacco Mar said in a statement Wednesday.
The Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christian legal organization representing Davis, accused the ACLU of conducting a witch hunt against Davis. “From the beginning we have said the ACLU is not interested in marriage licenses,” Chairman Mat Staver said in a statement. “They want Kim Davis’s scalp. They want to force her to violate her conscience. I am glad the court rejected this bully tactic.”