LOUISVILLE, Ky. – After five days behind bars, county clerk Kim Davis was ordered released from jail Tuesday by the judge who locked her up for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
U.S. District Judge David Bunning lifted the contempt order against Davis, saying he was satisfied that her deputies are fulfilling their obligation to grant licenses to same-sex couples in her absence. But he warned Davis not to interfere with them, saying, “If Defendant Davis should interfere in any way with their issuance, that will be considered a violation of this Order and appropriate sanctions will be considered.”
The move came down just before Davis was to receive jailhouse visits from presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz.
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis listens to a customer following her office’s refusal to issue marriage licenses at the Rowan County Courthouse in Morehead, Kentucky, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015.
Outside the jail where Davis is held, word spread slowly through a crowd of supporters Tuesday afternoon that she was going to be released, and some said they couldn’t believe the news.
Davis was ordered jailed Thursday by a federal judge on a contempt charge after defying several court orders. Her lawyers spent Labor Day weekend filing appeals in an effort to force her release.
Davis stopped issuing all marriage licenses in June, the day after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. Two gay couples and two straight couples sued her. Bunning ordered Davis to issue the licenses, and the Supreme Court upheld his ruling.
But Davis still refused to do it, saying she could not betray her conscience or God. Bunning ruled Thursday that Davis was in contempt of court and sent her to jail. Her deputy clerks – except for her son, Nathan Davis – then issued marriage licenses to gay couples Friday with Davis behind bars.
In lifting the contempt order Tuesday, Bunning asked for updates on the five deputy clerks’ compliance every two weeks.
Davis, an apostolic Christian, says gay marriage is a sin. She also says it would be a sin for her to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple because the licenses are issued under her authority. She tried in vain to have state lawmakers change the law as a legal challenge to Kentucky’s same-sex marriage ban wound its way through the federal appeals court.
Davis’ jailing has offered some of the many GOP presidential candidates an opportunity to appeal to the party’s evangelical Christian wing, which opposes same-sex marriage and casts Davis’ imprisonment as an issue of religious freedom.
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