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Former Kentucky clerk ordered to pay $100,000 for denying gay partners a marriage license in 2015

Kim Davis, September 2015 (Photo by Ida Mae Astute/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

Kim Davis, the former county clerk in Kentucky who gained national attention eight years ago when she refused to grant marriage licenses to gay partners, has now been ordered by a federal jury to pay one gay couple a total of $100,000.

Back in 2015, five justices on the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states via the notorious Obergefell v. Hodges case. Shortly thereafter, Davis, then the clerk of Rowan County in eastern Kentucky, became a media lightning rod when she refused to sign marriage licenses for gay couples, citing her religious belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.

After hearing about Davis' intransigence, same-sex partners David Ermold and David Moore arrived at her office "with news cameras in tow," the New York Post reported, demanding a marriage license. She denied a marriage license to Ermold and Moore as well as to same-sex partners James Yates and Will Smith.

That same year, District Judge David Bunning ruled that Davis was in contempt of court and sent her to jail. She was released five days later after members of her staff authorized the same-sex marriage licenses without Davis' signature.

Those two gay couples eventually sued Davis, who lost her re-election campaign for county clerk in 2018, and Judge Bunning ultimately ruled last year that, in denying a man a license to wed another man legally, Davis had violated the men's constitutional rights.

Davis "cannot use her own constitutional rights as a shield to violate the constitutional rights of others while performing her duties as an elected official," Bunning said at the time.

On Wednesday, a federal jury denied Davis' qualified immunity defense and awarded Ermold and Moore each $50,000 in damages, for a total of $100,000. The jury did not award Yates and Smith any damages.

"Discriminatory actions have consequences," said Chris Hartman, executive director the Fairness Campaign in Kentucky. "When you are a representative of the government, you must follow the law and treat everyone with dignity and respect, including LGBTQ Americans."

Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal group representing Davis, called the verdict "unsound" and based on "hurt feelings" rather than actual harm. The "plaintiffs suffered no damages because they could have obtained marriage licenses from any nearby clerk’s office," said a statement from the group.

"The plaintiffs instead created a shame case by intentionally targeting Kim Davis because of her religious beliefs. This is especially true of the Ermold plaintiffs who never thought about getting 'married' until they heard about Kim Davis via social media," the statement continued.

"We look forward to appealing this decision and taking this case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Kim Davis has blazed the trail in Kentucky where she has obtained religious freedom for all clerks. Now it is time to extend that freedom to everyone, and that is what Liberty Counsel intends to do," said Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver.

Liberty Counsel expressed confidence that its legal team might prevail with SCOTUS in Davis' case and in having Obergefell overturned. "Three of the five justices in the Obergefell majority are no longer on the Court," the statement noted.

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