Kim Davis ordered to pay $100K for refusing to issue gay marriage license, will appeal

Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis speaks during an interview on Fox News Channel's 'The Kelly File' in New York September 23, 2015.
Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis speaks during an interview on Fox News Channel's "The Kelly File" in New York September 23, 2015. | Reuters/Brendan McDermid

Former Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis is planning to appeal a jury ruling that requires her to pay out $100,000 in damages for refusing to sign a same-sex marriage license in 2015 after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide.

Last week, a federal jury awarded David Ermold and David Moore $50,000 each in their lawsuit against Davis, centered on the former Rowan County clerk's refusal to sign their marriage license in 2015.

Davis, 58, gained national media attention when she was arrested for contempt of court by refusing to sign marriage certificates in Rowan County following the high court's landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which struck down state-level bans against same-sex marriage. 

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The Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit legal group representing Davis, announced they would appeal the decision, arguing that the jury lacked the evidence necessary to support their verdict.

Specifically, the legal organization notes that the plaintiffs said under oath that they did not have an objective means to calculate the alleged damages suffered from Davis' actions.

"Plaintiffs are required to provide evidence of damages and it cannot be based on speculation or guesswork," stated the legal group.

"Because the plaintiffs provided the jury with no evidence whatsoever to give the jury any basis upon which to enter a damages verdict, the judge should never have given the case to the jury."

No damages were awarded in another case involving the former clerk's refusal to sign a marriage license for a same-sex couple, Yates v. Davis. Liberty Counsel contends that no damages were awarded in that case even though plaintiffs sought up to $300,000 "because that is what the evidence required."

Joe Buckles, who helped to represent Moore and Ermold, told National Public Radio that he was "thrilled" by the jury decision and that his clients had been "completely vindicated" by the verdict.

"The Supreme Court says that my clients have a constitutional right to marry under the 14th Amendment," Buckles continued.

"But this case isn't really about [Davis'] religion. The case isn't really about our clients' right to marry. The case is about a government official that just refused to do her job. It's a pretty simple case."

The Liberty Counsel also believes that Davis should have been protected from liability because "she was entitled to a religious accommodation from issuing marriage licenses under her name and authority that conflicted with her religious beliefs."

"When the newly elected Republican Governor Matt Bevin took office in December 2015, he granted religious accommodation to all clerks by Executive Order," stated the group.

"Then in April 2016, the legislature unanimously granted religious and conscience accommodation to all clerks from issuing marriage licenses that conflict with their religious beliefs."

A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in 2019 that Davis could be sued for her actions.

Circuit Judge John K. Bush, a member of the Sixth Circuit panel, authored a concurring opinion in 2019 in which he claimed that Davis had shown an "anti-homosexual animus."

"Davis knew or ought to have known, to a legal certainty, that she could not refuse to issue marriage licenses, as was her duty under state law, because of moral disapproval of homosexuality," Bush, a Trump appointee, wrote at the time.

"I therefore agree with the Majority that Plaintiffs have pleaded a violation of their constitutional right to marriage based on Davis's refusal to issue marriage licenses and that the district court correctly denied qualified immunity to Davis because she violated clearly established rights."

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