(Reuters) – A US judge ruled that a former Kentucky registrar knowingly violated the rights of same-sex couples by denying them a marriage license in 2015, paving the way for a jury trial seeking damages against her.
US District Judge David Bunning’s ruling on Friday also rejected a petition for immunity from former Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis.
Davis threw herself at the center of the American culture wars over the issue of LGBTQ rights by refusing the licenses in 2015, citing her religious beliefs. She went to jail for contempt of court for her refusal, and a deputy clerk in the Eastern County of Kentucky issued the permits.
The two couples in the lawsuit had attempted to marry in the immediate aftermath of the landmark 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges. They sued Davis in 2015 for violating their constitutional rights.
In the Obergefell case, the highest court in the United States ruled that, under the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, states must allow same-sex marriages and recognize those of other states.
But Davis repeatedly refused to issue marriage licenses, despite a letter from the governor instructing all clerks to issue the licenses and legal advice from the Rowan County attorney, who she had requested, advising that she was legally required to do so.
“It is clear that Obergefell recognizes plaintiffs’ 14th Amendment rights to marry. It is also clear that Davis made a conscious decision to violate plaintiffs’ rights,” the U.S. district court ruled in a preliminary ruling.
Now that the essential facts of the case have been resolved, the two couples, David Ermold and David Moore in one case and James Yates and Will Smith in the other, can move to a jury trial to seek damages against Davis as an individual.
Davis had previously been granted sovereign immunity in her official capacity.
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