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Kentucky Clerk Asks Supreme Court to Intervene in Gay Marriage Case

Image: A gay couple attempts to obtain a marriage license at the Rowan County Courthouse
William Smith Jr., right, and his partner James Yates, second right, speak with a clerk in an attempt to obtain a marriage license at the Rowan County Courthouse in Morehead, Ky., on Thursday. The couple were denied despite the ruling of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding an earlier decision instructing the clerks to issue marriage licenses. Timothy D. Easley / AP

Two months after it legalized gay marriage nationwide, the U.S. Supreme Court is being asked by a Kentucky county clerk for permission to keep denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who objects to gay marriage for religious reasons, asked the nation's highest court Friday to grant her "asylum for her conscience."

The Supreme Court ruled in June that the Constitution guarantees gay people the right to marry. But Davis contends the First Amendment guarantees her the right of religious freedom.

She stopped issuing all marriage licenses in the days after the Supreme Court's landmark decision. Two gay couples and two straight couples sued her, arguing that she must fulfill her duties as an elected official despite her personal Christian conviction. A federal judge ordered Davis to issue the licenses and an appeals court upheld that decision.

Davis' lawyers said they filed an emergency appeal with the Supreme Court Friday, asking that they delay the mandate to issue licenses until her appeal is finished, a process that could stretch for months.

Forcing her to abandon her Christian principles and issue licenses could never be undone, her attorney, Jonathan D. Christman, with the Christian law firm Liberty Counsel, wrote the court. He compared it to forcing a person who objects to war into the battlefield, or forcing a person who opposes capital punishment to carry out an execution.

"That searing act of personal validation would forever, and irreversibly, echo in her conscience — and, if it happened, there is no absolution or correction that any earthly court can provide to rectify it," he wrote.

The couples could easily drive to a nearby county to get a marriage license, Davis argued. But the couples counter that they have a right to get a marriage license in the county where they live, work and pay taxes.

Davis has said she will not resign from her $80,000-a-year job, and vowed that she will never license a same-sex marriage. She has turned couples away for two months, in defiance of a series of court orders.

Davis cannot be fired because she is an elected official. The Legislature could impeach her, but that is unlikely given that many state lawmakers share her beliefs. The Republican president of the state Senate spoke at a rally last week in support of Davis.