Governor-elect to remove clerk names from Kentucky marriage licenses

By Steve Bittenbender
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

By Steve Bittenbender

LOUISVILLE (Reuters) - Kentucky Governor-elect Matt Bevin said on Friday that when he takes office in December he will order changes to the state marriage license form to appease clerks who have objected to issuing licenses to same-sex couples.

"One thing I will take care of right away is we will remove the names of the county clerks from the marriage form," Bevin told reporters in the Capitol rotunda.

Bevin, the second Republican elected governor in Kentucky since 1971, said he would make the change by executive order.

It was unclear what effect his order would have on the case of Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who was jailed for five days after refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, making Kentucky a focal point in the debate over gay marriage in the United States. Davis, 50, met with Bevin the day she was released from jail.

Davis took steps to remove her name and office from the forms after she was released. She also had repeatedly urged current governor Steve Beshear, a Democrat, to remove clerk names from the form or provide another type of relief so she would not violate her Apostolic Christian beliefs.

Beshear has said he had no authority to relieve county clerks of their statutory duties by executive order and the issue could be addressed by the state legislature, which reconvenes in January.

An attorney for Davis applauded Bevin for "protecting the rights of conscience" of all the Kentucky county clerks.

"Gov. Elect Bevin's impending executive order is a welcome relief for Kim Davis and should be for everyone who cherishes religious freedom," Mat Staver said in a statement.

Davis had refused to issue any marriage licenses after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June made gay marriage legal across the United States. Lawyers representing two same-sex couples and two opposite-sex couples challenged her action.

U.S. District Judge David Bunning ordered Davis jailed for contempt for refusing to comply with his order to issue licenses. He ordered her released five days later when deputy clerks were issuing licenses, with the threat that she could return to jail if she interfered.

Davis also briefly met Pope Francis in September in Washington during his visit to the United States.

Davis has asked Beshear, state lawmakers and Bunning to accommodate her beliefs. She has also appealed Bunning's orders to the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Bunning and the appeals court have repeatedly denied her stays in the case.

(Reporting by Steve Bittenbender; Editing by Ben Klayman and Chizu Nomiyama)