Contempt ruling upheld against Kentucky clerk against gay marriage

Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis speaks during an interview on Fox News Channel's 'The Kelly File' in New York September 23, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid (Reuters)

By Steve Bittenbender

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Reuters) - A U.S. federal appeals court on Wednesday declined to vacate a contempt ruling that sent a Kentucky county clerk to jail last September after she refused to issue marriage licenses for gay couples.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals did lift an August 2015 injunction against Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis because the law is being changed and the court order that she issue marriage licenses despite her religious objections to same-sex marriage will no longer be relevant.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court said in a brief ruling that a district court judge's September contempt finding against Davis, issued when she defied the August injunction, did not meet the legal requirements to be vacated.

Davis's attorneys had argued the contempt decree should not have been issued.

Davis stayed in jail for five days last September after refusing to issue marriage licenses after the Supreme Court's decision legalizing same-sex marriage. Davis claimed same-sex marriage went against her Apostolic Christian beliefs.

Earlier this year, legislators in Kentucky passed a law removing clerks' names from the license form. The law is due to go into effect on Friday.

For that reason, the appeals court instructed the district court to remove the injunction against Davis. She had argued that her name on the document equaled her approval.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which helped represent four gay couples who sued Davis last year, said in a statement that while the law has changed in the state it was important to keep the contempt ruling against Davis.

"We're pleased that the appeals court kept that decision on the books," ACLU staff attorney Ria Tabacco Mar said in the statement. "It will serve as a reminder to other government officials that placing their personal views ahead of the Constitution and the rule of law is not acceptable."

Davis's attorney Mat Staver issued a statement in which he called the ruling a "final victory" for his client.

"The injunctions are gone and Kim Davis received the accommodation that she requested," said Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel. "County clerks are no longer forced to compromise their religious liberty and conscience rights."

(Editing by Fiona Ortiz)