Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples because of a religious objection, returned to work Monday and said she was being forced to choose between “my conscience or my freedom.”
But she said she would not stand in the way of her deputy clerks, who had begun issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in her absence. And a couple from Lexington, Shannon and Carmen Wampler-Collins, walked away with their official papers.
Their license had Davis' name removed and the words "pursuant to federal court order" added to it. She questioned the validity of licenses issued without her authority, but the governor and the county attorney have said that licenses issued to gay couples by the deputies will be valid.
“My license is valid, and it’s valid because of the court order that’s in effect,” Shannon Wampler-Collins told NBC News outside the clerk’s office in the city of Morehead. “It doesn’t have to have her signature.”
Carmen Wampler-Collins said: “It’s a big moment for us personally, so we’re just really happy.”
Arriving for work, Davis was greeted by a crush of cameras. Her voice was shaking as she read a prepared statement.
“I am no hero,” she said. “I’m just a person that’s been transformed by the grace of God, who wants to work, be with my family. I just want to serve my neighbors quietly without violating my conscience.”
“I’m here before you this morning with a seemingly impossible choice that I do not wish upon any of my fellow Americans,” she said. “My conscience or my freedom.”
A federal judge ordered Davis to issue licenses to same-sex couples, then held her in contempt and ordered her jailed Sept. 3 when she refused. The judge let her out five days later because the deputies were issuing the licenses.
Davis walked out of jail last week and was greeted by a throng of supporters and two Republican presidential candidates, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas.
At the clerk’s office on Monday, as the Wampler-Collinses walked up to the counter to get their license, a protester heckled the clerk and implored one of the women not to separate herself from God.
Supporters chanted, “Love has won.”
Davis is still pressing a court case on the underlying issue — whether a state official can assert a religious objection to issuing a same-sex marriage license.
Davis' lawyers said they were working on another lawsuit against Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat. Davis has proposed what she calls accommodations for her religious objection, such as having marriage licenses by issued by the state, not counties.
"Today Kim Davis remains the bravest woman in America," said Harry Mihet, one of Davis' lawyers. "Kim Davis believes we are a big enough country, diverse and tolerant enough to find ways to accommodate our differences and our beliefs."