Federal judge rules Kim Davis violated rights when she refused to marry same-sex couples in 2015

A federal judge said Friday that former Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis violated two same-sex couples’ constitutional rights when she refused to marry them while in office in 2015.

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, right, talks with David Moore following her office’s refusal to issue marriage licenses at the county courthouse in Morehead, Kentucky, on September 1, 2015.

In court documents filed Friday, US District Judge David Bunning dismissed Davis’ motion for summary judgment in civil suits brought against her by two same-sex couples to whom she had refused to grant marriage licenses.

A jury will now decide what damages to award the plaintiffs, according to the judge’s opinion.

“It is this Court’s opinion that Davis violated Plaintiffs’ constitutional right to marry and the only remaining issue is the issue of damages,” Bunning, who serves on the US District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, wrote in a memorandum and opinion.

In 2015, Davis, then the county clerk for Rowan County in northeastern Kentucky, refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples following the US Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision that legalized same-sex marriage. Davis held that issuing the licenses would violate her Christian convictions against same-sex marriage. Bunning declared Davis in contempt of court and ordered her to jail.

The couples suing Davis — David Ermold and David Moore, and James Yates and William Smith — were denied marriage licenses multiple times by Davis or her office. Both couples were later granted marriage licenses by a deputy clerk in September 2015, while Davis was in jail for five days.

Attorney Michael Gartland, who represents Ermold and Moore, told CNN that his clients “couldn’t be more happy” with the judge’s ruling Friday.

The issues now before the jury are how much the plaintiffs will get in compensatory damages and whether or not they should be awarded punitive damages, Gartland told CNN.

A trial date is expected to be set on April 1, 2022, according to Gartland.

Liberty Counsel, the conservative legal group representing Davis, said in a statement that they “will continue to argue that she is not liable for damages because she was entitled to a religious accommodation (which Governor [Matt] Bevin and the legislature granted),” adding that the case could be heading for the US Supreme Court.

“Kim Davis is entitled to protection to an accommodation based on her sincere religious belief. This case raises serious First Amendment free exercise of religion claims and has a high potential of reaching the Supreme Court,” the group’s chairman, Mat Staver, said in the statement.

The district court had previously dismissed plaintiffs’ claims against Davis in her official capacity as Rowan County clerk, but allowed the claims against Davis in an individual capacity to proceed. The court also determined that Davis was not entitled to qualified immunity.

Davis lost her reelection bid for county clerk in 2018.

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