Gay Marriage, Religious Liberty Become Part of Kentucky Campaign Talking Points
The rhetoric surrounding the Rowan County Clerk's decision not to issue marriage licenses, even after being told to do so by the United States Supreme Court a second time, is strong beyond Morehad.
In fact, it appears to have infiltrated the race for governor and attorney general.
Republican gubernatorial nominee Matt Bevin took to social media to attack his Democratic opponent, current Attorney General Jack Conway. Bevin accused Conway of not supporting the First Amendment and not protecting religious freedom. Rowan Co. Clerk cited something she referred to as God's law on Tuesday when she continued her refusal to comply with the law of the United States, something the Democrat has done since gay marriage became legal at the end of June.
“Jack Conway has failed to do his job as Attorney General by refusing to defend Kentucky’s marriage amendment, and he is failing to defend the religious freedom of our Kentucky clerks,” said Matt Bevin in a news release. "I once again call on Governor Beshear and AG Conway to do their jobs and defend the Constitutional rights of all Kentuckians, including our county clerks."
Bevin went on to claim that Conway's refusal to defend Kentucky's same-sex marriage ban beyond the federal appeals court has cost Kentucky taxpayers $2.3 million in outside legal fees. But that's not true. In fact, Conway told Governor Steve Beshear that he would not proceed in defending the same-sex marriage ban because he did not believe Kentucky would win at the Supreme Court. Beshear opted to hire outside counsel and the victorious plaintiffs who defeated Beshear at the Supreme Court want their legal bills covered. According to an article in the Lexington Herald Leader, that amount could be as high as $2.3 million.
Bevin continued, "It is incumbent upon the Governor and the Kentucky legislature to represent all of the Commonwealth's citizens, and uphold their individual liberties. To the extent those liberties come into conflict, such as in the case here, we should look for the least restrictive means to providing necessary government services."
Bevin released a proposal in which he states that the government should be "out of the marriage business". He called for marriage forms to be able to be downloaded so that anti-gay county clerks would not have to physically hand such forms to same-sex couples. "Forms can be available for pick-up, or downloadable, as you might download a power of attorney form. The form would then be presented to those with authority to approve or solemnize a marriage contract. That duly-executed marriage contract could then be filed and recorded at the county clerk's office just like a mortgage, a lien, a deed, etc," Bevin's plan stated.
"Such an approach, would allow compliance with the expanded definition of marriage, while still accommodating the religious beliefs of those who serve our state."
Meanwhile, Republican Attorney General candidate Whitney Westerfield, a state senator and attorney from Hopkinsville, took to Twitter and radio to defend anti-gay county clerks.
Westerfield is running against Democratic nominee Andy Beshear, who happens to be th son of the governor:
Gov. Beshear, a Democrat who ordered clerks in June to comply with the Supreme Court's ruling, issued a statement on Tuesday evening:
There are obviously strong feelings on both sides of this issue, but the United States Supreme Court has spoken and same-sex marriage is now legal in Kentucky and the rest of the United States. Regardless of whatever their personal feelings might be, 117 of our 120 county clerks are following the law and carrying out their duty to issue marriage licenses regardless of gender. Same-sex couples are now being married in Kentucky and such marriages from other states are now being recognized under Kentucky law.
The future of the Rowan County Clerk is now in the hands of the courts. The legislature has placed the authority to issue marriage licenses squarely on county clerks by statute, and I have no legal authority to relieve her of her statutory duty by executive order or to remove her from office.
The General Assembly will convene in four months and can make any statutory changes it deems necessary at that time. I see no need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money calling a special session of the General Assembly when 117 of 120 county clerks are doing their jobs.
Election Day is November 3.
-Michael Monks, editor & publisher