ASHLAND, Ky. -- A federal judge ordered a defiant county clerk to jail for contempt Thursday after she insisted that it would violate her conscience to follow court orders to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
Rowan County clerk Kim Davis and her deputy clerks were summoned to appear before U.S. District Judge David Bunning after she repeatedly denied them marriage licenses, cited her religious beliefs and "God's authority."
The judge said his only alternative was to jail her because he did not believe she would comply with his order even if she were fined. She was escorted out of his courtroom by a deputy, although not in handcuffs, to be turned over to the custody of federal marshals.
Hundreds of people outside the courthouse chanted and screamed, "Love won! Love won!"
Bunning warned deputy clerks that they must issue marriage licenses to gay couples or face fines or jail. The judge gave the deputy clerks time to meet with public defenders and said the hearing would resume at 1:45 p.m.
Davis testified for about 20 minutes and was very emotional. She described how she became a Christian and said she is unable to believe anything else.
April Miller, one of the women trying to obtain a license, also testified. She said she voted for Davis in the election and that this was only about getting her license, not about trying to change Davis' beliefs.
In front of the federal courthouse, demonstrators shouted at each other, sang hymns and waved signs, which ranged from the violent - turn to Jesus or burn - to simple statements of support. A small plane flew over the courthouse, carrying a banner that said: "Stand Firm Kim."
Davis stopped issuing licenses to all couples in June after the U.S. Supreme Court effectively legalized same-sex marriage. Despite rulings against her, she's turned away couples again and again.
The couples who originally sued in the case asked Bunning to punish Davis with fines but not jail time.
Davis, an Apostolic Christian, said earlier this week she never imagined this day would come.
"I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will. To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God's word," her statement said.
Her critics mock this moral stand, noting that Davis is on her fourth marriage after being divorced three times.
Davis served as her mother's deputy in the clerk's office for 27 years before she was elected as a Democrat to succeed her mother in November. Davis' own son is on the staff.
As an elected official, she can be removed only if the legislature impeaches her, which is unlikely in a deeply conservative state.
Bunning is the son of Jim Bunning, the Hall of Fame pitcher for the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies who served two terms as Kentucky's junior U.S. senator. Former Republican President George W. Bush nominated David Bunning for a lifetime position as a federal judge in 2001 when he was just 35 years old, halfway through his dad's first term in the Senate.
But Bunning has been anything but a sure thing for conservative causes. In 2007, he was part of a three-judge panel on a federal appeals court that overturned Michigan's ban on partial-birth abortion. The panel ruled the state's law was too broad and would outlaw other legal forms of abortion.
In 2003, Bunning ordered the Boyd County School District to allow the student club Gay-Straight Alliance to meet on campus.
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