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Kentucky County Clerk Remains Defiant After Returning To Work

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

There was a scene again today at the county clerk's office in Rowan County, Ky. Reporters crowded in to see if the defiant clerk Kim Davis would issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It was Davis's first day back at work after spending five days in jail on federal contempt charges. Kentucky Public Radio's Ryland Barton was there.

RYLAND BARTON, BYLINE: County Clerk Kim Davis says she won't issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because it goes against her religious beliefs. She defied the U.S. Supreme Court and was put in jail. Her deputy clerks issued the forms last week when Davis was in jail. Back at work this morning, Davis said she wouldn't get in the way of her deputy clerks, but she would strip her name from the licenses.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KIM DAVIS: Any unauthorized license that they issue will not have my name, my title or my authority on it. Instead, the license will state that they are issued pursuant to a federal court order.

BARTON: The test came when a lesbian couple from nearby Lexington stopped in to get a license.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Thank you, Brian. Woo, Brian.

(APPLAUSE)

BARTON: Shannon and Carmen Wampler-Collins were greeted by deputy county clerk Brian Mason. It took just a few minutes, but soon, they had their license in hand. The form did not have Davis's title and name. Shannon Wampler-Collins said it was ridiculous Davis changed the form.

SHANNON WAMPLER-COLLINS: You know, no one is asking her, nor do we seek her blessing, you know? It's just a legal document certifying that we meet the requirements. And I think it's a little ridiculous that she needed to go to that length, but at the same time, I'm very happy that it's making it possible for people to get licensed here.

BARTON: U.S. District Court judge David Bunning let Davis out of jail after the deputy clerks started granting licenses. He said she'd be held in contempt again if she interfered. That hasn't stopped Kim Davis and her attorneys from complaining. They say without the clerk's name and the fact that she didn't authorize them, this license and the others issued in the last week are invalid.

University of Illinois law professor Robin Wilson says that's not true. She says the licenses are valid because Kentucky's marriage laws already authorized deputy county clerks to issue marriage licenses.

ROBIN WILSON: The code expressively contemplates deputy clerks issuing these things, right? So I doubt that she could say no deputies can issue, right? And Judge Bunning just told her that that's going to be contempt of court, so I think that question's resolved.

BARTON: Other legal experts say the continuing religious freedom arguments don't hold any weight. University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias says even though Davis isn't issuing licenses herself, the situation is fixed as long as couples can get them in Rowan County.

CARL TOBIAS: Religious objections are accommodated at least for the head of the office and maybe the other deputy clerks. But some deputy clerk is going to have issue licenses from that office so people who want to get married have their rights vindicated.

BARTON: There's mounting pressure on Kentucky's legislature to change the state's marriage laws so the county clerks don't have to sign marriage licenses. Kim Davis has repeatedly asked outgoing governor Steve Beshear to call a special legislative session so the laws can be passed. But he's refused so far, and the legislature doesn't meet until January. For NPR News, I'm Ryland Barton in Morehead, Ky. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.