FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Jailed in 2015 for refusing to issue marriage licenses after gay weddings became legal, a Kentucky clerk running for re-election told voters on Tuesday she did not treat anyone unfairly and her act of defiance was to protect the state’s Constitution.
“I did not treat anybody unfairly. I treated everybody equally because I quit issuing marriage licenses altogether,” Republican Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis said during a candidate forum in Morehead, Kentucky. “I took an oath to stand up and uphold our Kentucky constitution and federal constitution, that’s exactly what I did.”
In 2004, Kentucky voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state Constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman. But in June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees same-sex couples have the right to marry. The ruling overturned same-sex marriage bans nationwide.
During Tuesday night’s forum, Davis appeared to still not accept that ruling.
“I have had many people ask me, ‘Why didn’t you do your job? Why didn’t you do your job? Why didn’t you just quit?’ Well if you will read our Kentucky state statutes, they still say that marriage is between one man and one woman. That’s what we voted in,” Davis said. “Our Constitution has not changed.”
Davis made international news in 2015 when she stopped issuing marriage licenses days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, citing her religious beliefs and saying she was acting under “God’s authority.”
Gay and straight couples sued her, and a federal judge ordered Davis to issue the licenses. She refused and spent five days jail. She was released only after her staff issued the licenses on her behalf but removed her name from the form. The state legislature later passed a law removing the names of all county clerks from state marriage licenses.
A federal judge later ruled Kentucky taxpayers must pay the couples’ legal fees of about $225,000.
Davis is running as a Republican in the Nov. 6th election, seeking a second four-year term to a job that pays her about $80,000 a year. She was first elected as a Democrat in 2014, but later switched parties because she said the Democratic party “abandoned her.” She faces Elwood Caudill Jr., who has worked for the county Property Valuation Administrator’s Office for 21 years. She has faced him before, defeating him by a scant 23 votes in the 2014 Democratic primary.
Caudill said Tuesday if elected he would treat everyone equally because he took an oath to “uphold the law of the land.”
“That’s not my choice. I didn’t vote (gay marriage) in. But I have to go by the law. You have to issue what the law tells you do,” he said.
The forum was broadcast live on local radio stations, and Davis appeared to have the crowd on her side as they applauded her answer about gay marriage. Caudill later criticized Davis for hiring her son to work for her, calling on county officials to pass an anti-nepotism ordinance. Davis defended the hiring, saying her son is someone she can trust to oversee human resources and handle the office computers.
The moderator offered Davis to ask Caudill a question, but she declined saying “for me to impugn him with a question that would hurt him or to make him look anything other than honorable, I will not do. Thank you, Elwood, for being my friend.”
Caudill said that meant a lot to him, but he did have a question for Davis.
“Do you still love me,” he asked as the crowd laughed, adding: “I feel the same way.”