Two months after it delivered a historic decision in favor of same-sex marriage, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday acted once more on the issue, declining to place on hold an order requiring a Kentucky clerk to issue marriage licenses to all couples regardless of sexual orientation.
Without explanation, the court denied a stay request filed by attorneys for Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who shut down marriage operations in her office after the Supreme Court’s nationwide marriage decision in June. The request was submitted to U.S. Associate Justice Elena Kagan, who’s responsible for stay requests in the Sixth Circuit, but the order indicates she referred the request to the entire court for consideration.
Attorneys for the Florida-based conservative legal group Liberty Counsel, which is representing Davis, filed the request with the Supreme Court last week after the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals declined a stay on a district court injunction requiring Davis to distribute marriage licenses in her office. David Bunning, the George W. Bush-appointed judge who issued the injunction, issued a temporary stay, but that was expected to expire Monday and he’s declined to extend it.
After the U.S. Supreme Court issued its historic decision in favor of same-sex marriage, Davis, an Apostolic Christian, initiated a “no licenses” policy for all couples in her office, saying she couldn’t give marriage licenses to same-sex couples because that would violate her religious beliefs. Couples seeking to marry in Rowan County filed a lawsuit against her, which prompted Bunning to issue a preliminary injunction earlier this month requiring Davis to resume marriage operations in her office.
It remains to be seen whether Davis will issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in her office now that the Supreme Court has declined to stay the order against her. Despite the court injunction against her, officials in her office have been recorded on video refusing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Continued denial of marriage licenses in Rowan County could lead the district judge to find Davis in contempt of court, which means fines or imprisonment.
Dan Canon, an attorney representing the couples on behalf of the Louisville, Ky.-based Clay Daniel Walton Adams, PLC, said the time for Davis to begin issuing marriage licenses to all couples regardless of sexual orientation.
“This is a reaffirmation of the rule of law,” Canon said. “We hope that Ms. Davis will comply with the orders of three separate courts, including the highest court in America, and begin issuing licenses to the citizens she was elected to serve.”
The stay denial from the Supreme Court takes place amid growing national discussion on the intersection of religious freedom and LGBT rights, but legal experts have said various factors go into stay decisions and observers shouldn’t read too much into the Supreme Court’s thinking on that potential conflict based on the denial in the Davis case.
JoDee Winterhof, the Human Rights Campaign’s senior vice president for policy and political affairs, said in a statement Davis’ religious objections don’t allow her to bar same-sex couples from marrying.
“Ms. Davis’ choices are clear: she must either choose to follow the law or resign her public position,” Winterhof said. “A public official’s personal religious opinion does not give her the privilege to trample over the rights of others. Freedom of religion is important, and Ms. Davis has the fundamental right to believe what she likes. But as a public servant, she does not have the right to pick and choose which laws she will follow or which services she will provide. We are pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court has denied the stay.”