Clerk Kim Davis returned to work on Sept. 14 for the first time since being jailed for disobeying a federal judge and said she was faced with a "seemingly impossible choice" between following her conscience and losing her freedom over denying marriage licenses to gay couples.
She said she decided not to interfere with deputy clerks who will continue to hand out the marriage licenses in Rowan County.
In her first day back after a five-day stint in jail, Davis said she was torn between obeying God and a directive from the judge that "forces me to disobey God." Davis, an Apostolic Christian, believes gay marriage is a sin.
Davis refused to issue licenses after the U.S. Supreme Court effectively legalized same-sex marriage. Her profile reached a fever pitch when she was jailed, as protesters, presidential candidates and news crews from across the county descended on the small town of Morehead, Kentucky.
Early on Sept. 14, the plaza outside the courthouse took on a carnival air: loud speakers blasted Christian music, television cameras and lights were set up in white-topped tents and Davis' supporters waved signs and prayed.
The issue has drawn some of the most fervent Christian activists from across the country. Their trucks are parked up and down the street, bearing signs that read "sodomy ruins nations" and "repent."
One truck, with a North Carolina license plate, has a poster-sized photo of an aborted fetus on the side. Others, from Iowa and Colorado, feature photos of two men kissing with doomsday warnings about the sin of homosexuality.
Police had a heavy presence outside the courthouse as about 100 reporters formed a tight semi-circle around the courthouse door and waited for Davis. She emerged just minutes before her office officially opened and gave her statement, saying the licenses would now say they were issued "pursuant to federal court order."
"I don't want to have this conflict. I don't want to be in the spotlight. And I certainly don't want to be a whipping post," Davis said. "I am no hero. I'm just a person that's been transformed by the grace of God, who wants to work, be with my family. I just want to serve my neighbors quietly without violating my conscience."
U.S. District Judge David Bunning held her in contempt and ordered her to jail Sept. 3 when she continued to refuse to issue the licenses. In her absence, her deputies issued at least seven licenses to gay couples and altered the forms to exclude Davis' name.
The governor, the attorney general and the county attorney have said the licenses are valid. Davis and her attorneys claim otherwise.
The deputy clerk who handed them out, Brian Mason, said he will continue to hand out the licenses.
Mason now sits behind a sign that reads "marriage license deputy." He remained calm, scrolling on his computer and chewing gum, despite the surreal scene unfolding before him. Dozens of television cameras crowded around his counter, with some reporters climbing step ladders to get a better shot of him sitting at his desk, waiting for a couple to arrive to get a marriage license.
"I love my deputy clerks and I hate that they have been caught in the middle of any of this," Davis said. "If any of them feel that they must issue an authorized license to avoid being thrown in jail, I understand their tough choice and I will take no action against them."
Mason, 38, has worked for Davis for a year and a half.
Davis went into her office after making her statement and remained there with the door closed and the blinds draw, despite the crush of media waiting at the counter.
Matt Sparks, sheriff of this rural county, is in the unexpected position of coordinating reporters from around the globe as they wait for a couple to arrive and try to get a license.
He asked the reporters to step back from the counter so a few customers could do business, like a man looking bewildered as he arrived to renew his car tag.
"I know what shot you're looking for," the sheriff told the crowd of media. "If a couple comes in you can step back up."