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“Did God Tell You to Treat Us Like This?”: Protests Grow over Clerk’s Denial of Same-Sex Marriages

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In Kentucky, the county clerk who has defied the Supreme Court and refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples is set to appear before a federal judge today to make her case for why she shouldn’t be held in contempt of court. Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis stopped issuing all marriage licenses rather than comply with the Supreme Court ruling in June that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. On Monday, the Supreme Court denied Davis’ appeal that the court grant her “asylum for her conscience.” The next day, same-sex couples went to Davis’ office. In a video that went viral, David Moore confronted Davis about her decision not to issue same-sex marriage licenses. We speak with Moore about how he and his partner, David Ermold, have been denied a marriage license on three occasions by Kim Davis and staffers in her office. We’re also joined by Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, Kentucky’s statewide LGBT advocacy group, and Joe Dunman, an attorney who represented the plaintiffs and petitioners in several Kentucky marriage cases which were consolidated into the Supreme Court case that effectively made marriage equality the law of the land.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In Kentucky, the county clerk who has defied the Supreme Court and refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples is set to appear before a federal judge in just a few hours to make her case for why she shouldn’t be held in contempt of court. Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis stopped issuing all marriage licenses rather than comply with the Supreme Court ruling in June that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. On Monday, the Supreme Court denied Davis’s appeal that the court grant her asylum for her conscience. The next day, same-sex couples confronted Davis at her office. David Moore asked her why she wasn’t issuing licenses.

DAVID MOORE: The injunction is the order that you’re supposed to issue marriage licenses.

KIM DAVIS: And we’re not issuing marriage licenses today.

DAVID MOORE: The Supreme Court denied your stay.

KIM DAVIS: We are not issuing marriage licenses today. So I would—

DAVID MOORE: Based on what?

KIM DAVIS: I would ask you all to go ahead and leave.

DAVID MOORE: Why are you not issuing marriage licenses today?

KIM DAVIS: Because I’m not.

DAVID ERMOLD: Under whose authority are you not issuing licenses?

DAVID MOORE: Why? Whose authority?

KIM DAVIS: Under God’s authority.

DAVID ERMOLD: I don’t believe in your god.

DAVID MOORE: Did God tell you to do this? Did God tell you treat us like this?

DAVID ERMOLD: I don’t believe in your god. I don’t believe in your god.

KIM DAVIS: I’ve asked you all the leave. You are interrupting my business.

DAVID MOORE: You can call the police if you want us to leave.

UNIDENTIFIED: It’s not your business; it’s the public’s.

DAVID MOORE: You can call the police. I pay your salary.

KIM DAVIS: That’s exactly right. The public can’t get in here.

DAVID MOORE: I pay your salary! I pay you to discriminate against me right now. That’s what I’m paying for. That’s what I’m paying for. I’m paying for this memory with my partner that I love that I’ve been with for 17 years. What’s the longest you’ve been with someone, that you’ve been married to someone?

KIM DAVIS: I’m asking you to leave.

DAVID MOORE: I’m not leaving.

DAVID ERMOLD: We’re not leaving until we have a license.

KIM DAVIS: Then you’re going to have a long day. Good day.

DAVID MOORE: Well, then, call the police. When they come, I’ll ask them to arrest you.

UNIDENTIFIED: Do your job!

DAVID MOORE: Call the police! Call the police! I will have—I will ask them to arrest you.

UNIDENTIFIED: Do your job!


DAVID MOORE: You should be ashamed of yourself! Everyone in this office should be ashamed of themselves. Is this what you want to remember? Is this what you want to remember, that you stood up for this? That your children have to look at you and realize that you’re bigots and you discriminated against people? Is that what you want? Is that what you want?

DEPUTY CLERK: I answer to God, and God’s word is my calling.

DAVID ERMOLD: God does not belong in the County Clerk’s Office.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That’s David Moore arguing with Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis. In a filing Wednesday, attorneys for Kim Davis argued a court order requiring her to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, quote, “irreparably and irreversibly violates her conscience.” Meanwhile, the Republican president of the Kentucky state Senate has come to Kim Davis’s defense, asking a federal judge to withhold his order for her to issue same-sex marriage licenses so that the state Legislature can pass a law exempting her from having to do so.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, national attention is focused on Kim Davis’s own marital history. She has been married four times, including twice to her current husband. She says she had a religious awakening about four years ago when her mother-in-law asked, as a dying wish, for Davis to go to church. In a statement, Davis said, quote, “There I heard a message of grace and forgiveness and surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. … I love my Lord and must be obedient to Him and to the Word of God,” she wrote.

Well, to talk more about Kim Davis, we’re joined by three guests. David Moore is a graphic designer from Morehead, Kentucky. He and his partner, David Ermold, were denied a marriage license on three occasions by Kim Davis and staffers in her office. His voice is the one you just heard on that video we just played arguing with Kim Davis. That video has gone viral—more than 1.8 million hits. Chris Hartman is also with us. He’s the director of the Fairness Campaign, Kentucky’s statewide LGBT advocacy group, based in Louisville. They’re both joining us from Lexington, Kentucky. But we are also going to Louisville to speak with attorney Joe Dunman, who represented the plaintiffs and petitioners in several in Kentucky marriage cases which were consolidated into the Supreme Court case that effectively made marriage equality the law of the land.

David, let’s begin with you in Lexington. Describe that interaction that you had with the county clerk, Kim Davis. Where were you? What were you asking for? And what did she say to you?

DAVID MOORE: I was in the County Clerk’s Office in Morehead. We went in. Press was everywhere. We actually saw the couple that went in before us, who are a part of the ACLU case. They came out. We saw that they were denied. At first we thought they got it, but then they turned around and said that they were denied. We walked up to the counter. We stood there for maybe three or four minutes talking to the deputy clerk. She said that Kim Davis was in her office. We could see her blinds were drawn, and she wasn’t speaking to anyone. And we pretty much demanded that she come out and face the people. She said she was willing to face the day, so I think it was only fair that she come out and face the people that she was denying a license to. When she came out, I—we both felt infuriated that they were still denying our rights to get a marriage license in the county that we live in, in the home, you know, that we live in. I was infuriated. I just could not control myself. I refuse to accept that. I just refuse.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, David Moore, you’ve suggested that Kim Davis has a lot of support for the position that she’s taking. Could you elaborate on that? Support from whom?

DAVID MOORE: Well, that day, there were protesters and supporters for both sides outside the courthouse. She had support from, I guess, local church groups. And a lot of people that come outside, from outside the community, you know, they came to support her. And the thing is, if she would issue marriage licenses today to everyone, those people who are coming out to say, “We stand with Kim Davis,” they would not be protesting. They would not be protesting people just going and getting their license. She is basically sending like a rallying signal that she’s a victim. And she’s not a victim. So, really, it’s just this false signal—”Oh, come and help me”—so all these people show up. But really, she doesn’t need any help, because her rights haven’t been changed or taken away in any way whatsoever.

AMY GOODMAN: David, I want to go to another video of you at the Rowan County Courthouse. This is the second time that you and your partner, David Ermold, attempted to get a marriage license. After staffers in Kim Davis’s offices refused to issue you a license—they said she was not there that day—the two of you go down the hall to the office of the Rowan County judge/executive, Dr. Walter “Doc” Blevins. He was not yet in the office, but his aide calls him and lets you speak with him by phone.

DAVID MOORE: Nope, won’t do it. So…

DAVID ERMOLD: What was his reason?

DAVID MOORE: He doesn’t have the paperwork, no paperwork, doesn’t have the software. He wants the judges to figure out, wants it to go through the court system.

DAVID ERMOLD: It is through the court system.

DAVID MOORE: He said he cannot force anyone in her office to do it. They can’t force her to do it. He said there’s one person in her office that’s willing to do it, but they can’t do it without her authorization. So, there’s—no, there’s nothing.


DAVID MOORE: So, [inaudible].

DAVID ERMOLD: Basically, if you want a statement from me, I will say that people are cruel. They are cruel. People are cruel. And this is wrong. And that’s how it is. That is how it is. And that’s the bottom line. She’s wrong, and these people are cruel to do this to us.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s David Ermold and David Moore. I want to go to Joe Dunman, who’s in Louisville, Kentucky. You’re an attorney who has worked on this case. You have spearheaded the case that really led to the Supreme Court decision for marriage equality in the United States. What is the law here?

JOE DUNMAN: Well, the law—there’s two different kinds of the law. The first is the federal Constitution, which, the Supreme Court has said, requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. And then there’s the state law, which requires clerks to issue the licenses. And that’s what Kim Davis is violating. She is saying that she has a religious objection to following a Kentucky statute, which is neutral and very simple and just says clerks must issue licenses. She doesn’t really have a legal argument, because the courts have never observed that public officials have religious—can have a religious exception to just doing their jobs. And so, we’re making a very simple argument here that just says that public officials must do their jobs. If there’s a conflict with their beliefs, then they need to resign or, you know, lobby the General Assembly to change the law in the meantime. But they still have to follow the statute and issue the licenses.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Joe Dunman, there’s a hearing on the case today. On what grounds, if at all, would it be possible for the judge to rule in Kim Davis’s favor?

JOE DUNMAN: I don’t know. I don’t think there are any grounds. I mean, we made a simple motion. You know, we have an injunction in place that requires her to issue licenses. She’s violating that by not doing so. We’ve simply asked that the court impose a financial penalty, which will incentivize her to do her job. And, you know, we don’t think there’s any grounds for them to argue otherwise. Of course, her attorneys disagree.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And she could keep appealing every court order, is that right?

JOE DUNMAN: Yeah, each order that’s considered final, she can appeal. So far, she has shown quite an interest in doing so. It’s important to note that we’re at the very beginning of the litigation here. We just have a preliminary injunction in place. We haven’t done any kind of discovery. We haven’t looked at any documents. We haven’t done really much of anything other than file some briefs. And so, we’re still in the early stages. And even though the injunction is in place, it’s being appealed to the Sixth Circuit, so we still have to take an argument there while the rest of the case sits in the district court. So, yeah, it’s kind of a unique procedural place we’re in.

AMY GOODMAN: So, two questions: One, the significance of Kim Davis being an elected official; and two, when she says that she is having her rights violated, she’s trying to follow her conscience?

JOE DUNMAN: Yeah, well, public officials, it’s an important distinction, because, you know, they don’t operate as individuals. The government is not compelling them to do something as private citizens. It’s asking them to do something as their employer. And the case law is very clear that, you know, the government, as an employer, can tell its employees what to do, to a certain extent. And all the case law about the First Amendment and how it operates for public officials is very clear. You know, they have to do their jobs. If they don’t, they have the option to resign. It’s not mandatory that they hold that office, it’s voluntary. And because it’s voluntary, they can always choose to do something else. And I’m sorry, your second question?

AMY GOODMAN: Talking about her saying that her rights are being violated, that this is against her religion.

JOE DUNMAN: Right. You know, she has done—she made a big effort in this case to portray herself as the victim here, but the victims are our clients. They’re the ones who have been denied marriage licenses to which they’re entitled. She is trying to say that she is the one being victimized. She has actually sued the governor as a third-party defendant, claiming that his letter to all the clerks earlier in the year asking them to issue licenses somehow infringes her rights, except that that letter doesn’t compel her to do anything. And she’s ignoring it anyway. And so, she’s complicated this procedurally in a way to make herself seem like a victim, when really it’s our clients who are the ones who are entitled to marriage licenses and can’t get them in their home, where they deserve them.

AMY GOODMAN: She could as easily say, “It is against my religion to serve any black person.”

JOE DUNMAN: Well, I mean, that’s the logical extension of her argument. I mean, if we give her a religious exemption, then we give all public officials that kind of exemption, and then there’s no rules. And then the 14th Amendment stops meaning anything. Equal protection stops meaning anything. You just have to hope that when you walk into the clerk’s office every day, you know, when you need a document, that the clerk shares all your beliefs; otherwise, they can turn you away.

AMY GOODMAN: How many of these cases are being brought around the country? I mean, you are the lawyer who spearheaded the case that went to the Supreme Court that legalized marriage equality in this country. How much are we seeing this in—not only in Kentucky, but in other states?

JOE DUNMAN: Well, I had a lot of help in that effort for marriage equality, I wasn’t alone. But as far as the clerk fight, it’s a little different. I know in Alabama they do it through probate judges, and they’ve—I believe it’s 11 probate judges in Alabama are still saying that they won’t issue any marriage licenses, despite court orders to the contrary. And I want to say there’s a fight going on in Texas, but I’m not really clear on it. Our case—in Kentucky, there’s at least three clerks who are refusing to issue any marriage licenses, and Kim Davis is just one of them. But, you know, we have 120 counties, and three of them are protesting, so percentage-wise we’re doing pretty good. For the most part, the country is complying with the Supreme Court’s order, as we should expect.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I’d like to ask Chris Hartman of the Fairness Campaign how representative Kim Davis is of other counties in Kentucky. You have been lobbying for fairness laws for a long time across the state. Could you say a little about that?

CHRIS HARTMAN: Right. Kentucky really is a state of fairness, not of Kim Davis. She’s not representative of the population. More than a quarter of Kentucky residents now live in a city or a county that has anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, including the city of Morehead, where Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis works. Morehead actually was the only city in Kentucky to unanimously approve LGBT discrimination protections. Now there are seven other cities and counties in our state that extend those protections, and those numbers keep on increasing every year. Kim Davis is making a last gasp right now with her lawyers from the Liberty Counsel, who are imported into Kentucky. These are late Reverend Jerry Falwell’s lawyers. They’re not even Kentucky lawyers bringing the case before the courts right now.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Chris Hartman, another organization that’s been active in lobbying for LGBT rights is Freedom to Marry, and its national campaign director said that the Kim Davis incident is, quote, “a very small temporary blip that will take care of itself.” Do you agree with that assessment?

CHRIS HARTMAN: I do agree with that assessment, that I think even by the end of today or tomorrow marriage licenses are going to start coming out of Rowan County; that sooner, rather than later, folks will be able to get married in every county in which they live across the United States. This is a temporary roadblock. It is a small, but very vocal, population that are simply fighting back and attempting to make as much noise as they can, because they know that the vast majority of Americans and Kentuckians support LGBT rights.

AMY GOODMAN: The other three clerks in Kentucky who are saying no, like Kim Davis, Chris?

CHRIS HARTMAN: Casey Davis, Kay Schwartz, right. Whitley County, Casey County.

AMY GOODMAN: Will their case take the exact same legal route?

CHRIS HARTMAN: Certainly, if there are cases brought against them. I think that they’re probably waiting to see what happens in Kim Davis’s case. And I think the message will be clear and resounding. I don’t believe Judge Bunning is going to tolerate any more delay of couples like David and his longtime partner getting the marriage licenses that they deserve, that the Supreme Court has twice affirmed is their constitutional right to obtain. Kim Davis and these other two county clerks cannot stand in the way much longer.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, David Moore, as we watched you attempt to get a marriage license again and again, tell us why you want to get married, why this is important to you, and what you plan to do now.

DAVID MOORE: Well, we’ve been together for 17 years, my partner and I, and we kind of already feel like we are married. We went through all the commitment and all the ups and downs that you have in a marriage. This is just kind of a final legal, you know, symbol of our love for each other and our commitment, that everybody else is able to share in, and we should be able to share in that, too. I think we’ve demonstrated, just by being together for this long, you know, that we deserve that same right. Anyone deserves that right.

What we plan to do is, hopefully, we’ll be able to get a license very soon in Rowan County. It’s our home, it’s where we live and work. And that’s what I want to see happen. So I’m looking forward to that and getting that license, going on a trip, a honeymoon, and relaxing and not having to think about the media and Kim Davis for a while.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you all for being with us, David Moore and Chris Hartman, speaking to us from Lexington. Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign. And from Louisville, attorney Joe Dunman.

When we come back from break, will a torturer be brought to justice? That’s the question that a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar, is asking, because it was Maher Arar who was tortured, sent by the United States to Syria in 2002, where he was held for almost a year. We’ll speak with his wife in Ottawa. Stay with us.

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