The U.S. Supreme Court let two gay couples press a lawsuit against Kim Davis, the former Kentucky county clerk who refused to abide by the 2015 high court ruling that legalized same-sex weddings nationwide.
The justices rejected an appeal from Davis, who drew national attention by halting all marriage licenses in Rowan County after the Supreme Court’s landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision. Davis, who spent five days in jail later in 2015 after defying a court order against her, said putting her name on same-sex marriage licenses would have violated her deeply-held religious beliefs.
Two of the dissenters in the Obergefell case, Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, said in a four-page opinion Monday that the 2015 ruling was threatening religious liberty.
“This petition provides a stark reminder of the consequences of Obergefell,” Thomas wrote for the pair. “By choosing to privilege a novel constitutional right over the religious liberty interests explicitly protected in the First Amendment, and by doing so undemocratically, the court has created a problem that only it can fix.”
Thomas and Alito said they nonetheless agreed with the decision not to hear the case, saying Davis’s appeal didn’t “cleanly present” the key issues. As is customary, the court as a whole made no comment.
Davis was challenging a 3-0 federal appeals court decision that said the suit could go forward and that the couples could seek damages. The Cincinnati-based court said the couples made a plausible allegation that Davis had violated a clearly established legal right to marry.
The couples -- David Ermold and David Moore, and James Yates and Will Smith -- were rejected three times when they requested marriage licenses from the Rowan County clerk’s office in 2015. They urged the Supreme Court to reject Davis’s appeal without a hearing.
Davis, who lost her re-election bid in 2018, contended she was entitled to “qualified immunity,” a legal protection more commonly used by police officers seeking to stop civil rights lawsuits.
The case is Davis v. Ermold, 19-926.
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