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Other State Officials Say No to Same-Sex Marriage


Other State Officials Say No to Same-Sex Marriage
As Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis gets ready to return to work, other officials are drawing scrutiny from gay-marriage supporters

By Arian Campo-Flores

The spotlight will shine once again Monday on a Kentucky county clerk as she prepares to return to work after being jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But Kim Davis isn’t the only one causing a stir.

Local officials in several other states also are refraining from granting licenses or performing ceremonies, drawing stepped-up scrutiny from gay-marriage supporters.

In North Carolina, all four magistrates in rural McDowell County have recused themselves from performing civil wedding ceremonies for any couples. The moves are allowed under a state law passed in June that allows certain public officials to avoid marriage duties if they have religious objections. So far, 32 magistrates across the state—about 5% of the total—have done so, according to the state Administrative Office of the Courts.

As a result of the void in McDowell County, magistrates from neighboring Rutherford County have been driving in to perform ceremonies three days a week, during reduced hours. Tonia Hampton, the McDowell County register of deeds, whose office issues marriage licenses, said the documents continue to be available during regular hours. “It’s business as usual for us,” she said.

While the new law prohibits registers of deeds, who are elected officials, from refusing to issue licenses, it allows their assistants and deputies to do so. Ms. Hampton wouldn’t say whether any staff members had recused themselves.

The situation in McDowell “illustrates the administrative nightmare that this new law set up for our local officials,” said Sarah Preston, acting executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina. The group is urging any couples who experience problems as a result of the new law to come forward. So far, none has, Ms. Preston said.

In Alabama, about a half-dozen county probate judges, who oversee the issuance of marriage licenses, aren’t providing them to any couples, said Greg Norris, the Monroe County probate judge and president of the Alabama Probate Judges Association.

Among them is Nick Williams, the Washington County probate judge. He said he stopped issuing licenses immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that legalized same-sex marriage—a decision he said he considers “ill-advised” and “invalid,” because marriage is a state issue.

“By not issuing licenses to anyone, I’m not discriminating against anyone,” Judge Williams said.

Under Alabama law, probate judges “may” issue marriage licenses, but aren’t obligated to, providing firmer legal ground for those who have objected. But Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, said the group is studying the issue to see “if there’s an avenue we can use to encourage” the holdouts to resume issuing licenses.

Ms. Davis—the Rowan County, Ky., clerk who opposes same-sex unions on religious grounds—is the only clerk facing litigation so far because aggrieved plaintiffs haven’t appeared in other counties. A federal judge sent her to jail Sept. 3 for repeatedly refusing to follow his order that she issue marriage licenses to all qualified couples. He released her last Tuesday but ordered her not to interfere with her deputy clerks, who have been issuing licenses in her absence.

On Friday, preparing for her return to work, Ms. Davis filed an appeal in federal court to allow her to continue to prevent the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

But at least two other Kentucky county clerks also are refusing to issue licenses, including Casey Davis in Casey County. He recently rode his bike across the state in support of Ms. Davis, who isn’t related to him, and said he also would risk jail to uphold his religious convictions.

Invoking Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. Davis said accepting imprisonment “to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.”

Write to Arian Campo-Flores at [email protected]

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