GRAYSON, Ky. (AP) — Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, was released Tuesday after five days behind bars, emerging to a tumultuous reception from thousands of cross-waving supporters.
“I just want to give God the glory. His people have rallied, and you are a strong people,” she told the crowd after stepping outside, her arms raised like a victorious boxer, to the blaring Rocky theme song “Eye of the Tiger.” She added: “Keep on pressing.”
Her lawyer refused to say whether she would defy the courts again.
“Kim cannot and will not violate her conscience,” said Mat Staver, founder of the Liberty Counsel, the Christian law firm representing Davis. As for whether she will issue licenses, Staver said only: “You’ll find out in the near future.”
The Rowan County clerk whose defiance has made her a hero to the religious right walked free after the federal judge who ordered her locked up lifted the contempt order against her, saying he was satisfied that her deputies were fulfilling their obligation to grant licenses to same-sex couples in her absence.
But U.S. District Judge David Bunning also warned Davis not to interfere again.
Davis, 49, has refused to resign her $80,000-a-year job. As an elected official, she can lose her post only if she is defeated in an election or is impeached by the state General Assembly. The latter is unlikely, given the legislature’s conservative nature.
As the news of her impending release spread, a crowd of dozens of supporters who had gathered on the jailhouse lawn for a previously scheduled rally swelled. They broke into “Amazing Grace” and “God Bless America” and waved signs, flags and large white crosses.
Cries of thanks to Jesus echoed through the crowd as Davis emerged next to Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and her husband, Joe, who was in overalls and a straw hat. Huckabee and fellow GOP White House candidate Sen. Ted Cruz visited her at the jail just after the decision came down.
“If somebody has to go to jail, I’m willing to go in her place,”said Huckabee, a former Baptist minister and Arkansas governor. He added: “She has shown more courage than any politician I know.”
Davis was locked up on Thursday for the boldest act of resistance by a public official yet to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that effectively legalized gay marriage across the nation. Citing “God’s authority” and her belief that gay marriage is a sin, Davis, an Apostolic Christian, stopped issuing all marriage licenses.
Two gay couples and two heterosexual ones sued her. Bunning ordered Davis to issue the licenses, and the Supreme Court upheld his ruling. But she still refused and was held in contempt of court and hauled off to jail in handcuffs, igniting protests from members of the religious right. They rallied for days outside her office, at the jail, even outside the judge’s home.
The timing of her release came as something of a surprise. Last week, Bunning said that he might reconsider his decision to jail her in a week.
Five of Davis’ six deputy clerks — all except her son, Nathan — agreed to issue licenses to gay couples with Davis behind bars. In lifting the contempt order, Bunning asked for updates on the five clerks’ compliance every two weeks.
On Tuesday, Staver, Davis’ lawyer, maintained that the licenses issued by her deputies are invalid. But the Kentucky’s attorney general said it believes otherwise.
Laura Landenwich, an attorney for the couples whose lawsuit led to Davis’ jailing, said she has her doubts Davis will comply with the court’s latest order.
“I would hope that she would recognize her legal obligations at this point,” Landenwich said. “And do what’s right.”
Davis’ jailing has offered some of the many GOP presidential candidates an opportunity to appeal to the party’s evangelical Christian wing, which opposes gay marriage and has cast Davis’ jailing as an issue of religious freedom.
On Monday, Davis’s lawyers took their case to a federal appeals court, asking that Davis be allowed to remove her name and title from marriage certificates issued in Rowan County so that she would not have to act against her conscience.
Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat like Davis, reiterated Tuesday that he will not call a special session of the legislature to overhaul the state’s process for licensing marriages.
“Hopefully we can move forward now. We need to be thinking about so many things about the future of Kentucky,” he said.
Casey County Clerk Casey Davis, who recently bicycled more than 400 miles across the state of Kentucky in solidarity with Kim Davis, called her jailing a “total injustice.” He is not related to her.
He said he is not issuing any marriage licenses, and suspects the conflict could come to his county next. He said only one same-sex couple has inquired about a license in his county and was told there were no licenses being issued, and that’s the last Davis heard from them.
He said he, too, would be willing to go to jail.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.