People have threatened to kill Kim Davis and burn down her house because the county clerk in Kentucky has refused to issue marriage licenses since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in June.
That staunch refusal, a protest against same-sex marriage, resulted in her being held in contempt of court and taken to jail on Thursday.
Four couples – two gay and two straight – have sued Davis, arguing she must fulfill her duties as an elected official despite her personal religious beliefs.
“This situation absolutely didn’t have to happen, if only Kim Davis followed the law,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization.
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“Same-sex couples in Rowan County (Kentucky) have a constitutional right to marry the person they love in the place they call home, and they’ve shamefully, repeatedly been prevented from exercising that right.
“The time has now come for the staff in the Rowan County Clerk’s office to follow the law and immediately begin issuing those couples their long overdue marriage licenses.”
Davis has said she never expected to find herself in this jam. Who is she? Here are five things known about her.
She’s a born-again Christian
On a Sunday morning about four years ago when she was 44 she repented and pledged her life to serving the Lord as she listened to preachings from the book of Galatians.
Through her attorney she has shared that she has made “major mistakes” in her life.
She has been divorced three times
The Associated Press and Buzzfeed reviewed court records that reveal Davis’ rocky married life. She’s been married four times, twice to the same man.
She married her first husband when she was 18 and divorced him in 1994.
In a 2008 divorce filing she acknowledged having two children while she was not married.
In 1996 she married a man named Joe Davis. They divorced in 2006.
In 2007 she married again. That marriage lasted less than a year.
She remarried Davis, who describes himself as “an old redneck hillbilly,” in 2009.
“She made some mistakes,” says her Christian lawyer, Mat Staver. “She’s regretful and sorrowful. That life she led before is not the life she lives now. She asked for and received forgiveness and grace. That’s why she has such a strong conscience.”
This is all about her faith
Davis, who dresses modestly in ankle-sweeping skirts, has been invoking “God’s authority” in defying federal court orders demanding her to do her job.
“It is a heaven or hell decision,” she said in a statement.
People who support her decision compare her to the Bible’s Paul and Silas, both of whom were imprisoned for their faith.
Davis is an Apostolic Christian whose followers believe that a very literal interpretation of the Bible is the infallible word of God. Homosexuality, fornication and adultery are considered immoral or deviant behavior.
In court in July she testified that she prayed and fasted over her decision to stop issuing marriage licenses. “It wasn’t just a spur-of-the-moment decision. It was thought out, and I sought God on it,” she said.
She can’t be fired
Davis, who is a Democrat, was elected to her post in 2014. She succeeded her mother, Jean Bailey, held the job for 37 years, then reportedly hired her son to work for her.
Because she is an elected official, she can’t be fired. She would have to be impeached or otherwise removed by the state.
“No authority exists for her removal or suspension from the office by Rowan County government,” Rowan County attorney Cecil Watkins told the Morehead News.
“Kentucky state government is the only entity that can move to have Kim Davis removed as Rowan county clerk.”
USA Today reported that the state legislature is not in session and that many lawmakers support Davis’ decision.
Who supports her, who doesn’t
County attorney Watkins is exasperated with Davis and has told her that he “will not and cannot support” her in her refusal to obey the Constitution.
He told the Kentucky Trial Court Review that Davis’ deputy clerks are willing to issue licenses to everyone legally allowed to marry but they are afraid to go against Davis. Watkins said the deputy clerks will comply with any order from the judge on Thursday.
This week, Buzzfeed interviewed protesters outside the courthouse where Davis works and discovered a common sentiment among them: A county clerk who ran for office should do her job or resign.
But opinions remain strongly divided in her hometown.
Lifelong resident Danny Kinder, 73, also a born-again Christian, believes the Supreme Court overstepped its bounds by legalizing same-sex marriage. “To the Lord, what gay people are doing is an abomination. God didn’t make marriage between two men or two women. Marriage is between a man and woman,” he told Buzzfeed.
Erica Gardner, 33, said she voted for Davis in 2014 and now wishes she could take back her vote. “I wish Davis would get out of the office or do her job,” she said.