Tag Archives: clerk

Defense counsel representing Kim Davis deemed a hate group

Kim Davis’ lawyer stood onstage in a Washington, D.C., hotel and pointed to a photo on the screen. It showed 100,000 people packed into a Peruvian soccer stadium, Mat Staver told the crowd, all there to pray for the Kentucky clerk battling against gay marriage.

The crowd erupted.

It wasn’t true.

Staver’s firm, the Liberty Counsel, which revealed Davis’ secret meeting with Pope Francis, has been accused by advocacy groups of peddling misrepresentations in the past. Yet it has become the main source of details about the controversial pope meeting.

Online sleuths quickly debunked the Peru story Staver told at the Values Voter Summit, a conference for the conservative Family Research Council. The photo was from a year-old gathering unrelated to Davis, who spent five days in jail for defying a court order and refusing to license gay marriages. Staver could provide no evidence of a massive Davis rally. He called it a mistake and blamed miscommunication with the Peruvian authorities who gave him the photo.

The next day, the firm dropped a bombshell. It said Pope Francis, on his celebrated visit to America, secretly met with Davis. The pope hugged her, thanked her for her courage and told her to “stay strong,” Liberty Counsel said. The Vatican has said the pope had a brief meeting with Davis that should not be seen as support for her stance.

Many on the religious right hail the Florida-based Liberty Counsel, which bills itself as a nonprofit committed to “restoring the culture by advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the family.”

“They’re willing to stand up for our rights under the Constitution, they’re not backing down,” said Nick Williams, a probate judge in Alabama who has also pledged never to issue a marriage licenses to a same-sex couple and sought guidance from the Liberty Counsel. Williams compared the federal court system to the tyrannical kings in the Bible: “I’m glad we have a law firm willing to stand up to the kings of our time.”

But critics watched in exasperation as the organization rocketed to national celebrity alongside Davis.

The Southern Poverty Law Center lists the Liberty Counsel as an anti-gay hate group for spreading false information.

“A group that regularly portrays gay people as perverse, diseased pedophiles putting Western civilization at risk are way, way over the line,” said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the center.

The Liberty Counsel has connected homosexuality to higher rates of promiscuity and incest, Potok said, despite scientific evidence to the contrary. The firm opposes laws banning hate crimes and supports discredited conversion therapies that purport to turn homosexuals into heterosexuals. Staver once declared that the Boy Scouts would become a “playground for pedophiles” once it allowed gay troop leaders.

Staver, his hair bright white and his ties usually red, contends his quotes were taken out of context and he has legal arguments for the rest: hate crime laws infringe on free speech, he believes, and gay conversion therapies should be available to those who want them because he believes in “personal autonomy.”

“It is irresponsible and reckless to call someone a hate group because you disagree with them,” he said.

He added that he can’t be considered a hater because he loves all of God’s creation.

Williams also came to his defense: the Bible warned that Christians would be persecuted for standing strong for their faith, he noted.

“Jesus told us we would be hated for his name,” he said. “For standing for what we stand for, people will hate us. It happened to the disciples, but it’s also happening today.”

Staver grew up in Florida. He told The Associated Press in a phone interview that his father was an abusive alcoholic who his Catholic mother divorced when he was young. She worked three jobs and raised him alone, he said, and he went through the motions of Catholicism until an evangelical pastor saved him from sin as a young man.

He became a pastor himself in Kentucky, though he shied away from social issues until he saw a film in 1982 about abortion. He resolved to go to law school to fight for traditional family values. He graduated from the University of Kentucky’s law school, moved back to Florida with his wife, Anita, and they started the Liberty Counsel in 1989.

For years they dabbled in causes against abortion, the “War on Christmas” and other hot-button topics in the American culture wars.

In 2000, the firm threatened to sue a Florida library that offered a “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry” certificate to kids who read the Harry Potter book series. Five years later, they sent letters complaining that a Wisconsin elementary school put on a decades-old play called “The Little Christmas Tree,” about a lonely pine searching for a family, which sets a song to the tune of ‘’Silent Night” but does not mention Jesus.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, has called Staver a courageous legal scholar. 

Civil liberties advocates disagree. 

“There is an enormous amount of bluster amid his legal arguments,” said Barry Lynn, a minister and executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who has debated Staver on religious freedom issues. “It looks to me like he’s making claims that will get his clients great publicity, but not necessarily get them victories.”

Staver stands firm on his contributions to American jurisprudence. His firm has been involved in 60 same-sex marriage cases. It has 10 full-time attorneys, and dozens more across the country willing to work for free to promote the cause. In 2013, the firm hauled in more than $4 million, according to tax returns.

As Davis defied a series of federal court orders and was sent to jail, Staver cast her as a heroine called into battle by God. He compared her actions to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln. She received 20,000 pieces of mail in jail, he said.

“I’ve lost the ability to be surprised at how easy it is to become the next Joan of Arc,” said Lynn. “When you make heroes out of people who refuse to accept the rule of law and who fail to acknowledge the dignity of other human beings, you are on a very dangerous path.”

Staver said the meeting with the pope validates his arguments about Davis’ rights to conscientious objection. He rejects even the suggestion he might wake up one day and discover himself on the wrong side of history.

Last week, he showed the crowd at the Values Voter Summit the photo of the imaginary Peruvian prayer rally and declared its significance in the battle against Christian oppression.

“That, my friends, is happening around the world,” he said. “When one person stands it has an impact and Kim Davis will continue to stand for her lord and savior Jesus Christ.”

Anti-gay Kentucky clerk found in contempt, taken into custody

A county clerk in Kentucky who refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on religious grounds was found in contempt of court by a U.S. federal judge on Sept. 3 and taken into custody.

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis was led away by U.S. marshals.

“The court doesn’t do this lightly,” District Court Judge David Bunning said in ordering she be taken into custody.

Davis has refused to issue licenses to any couples, gay or straight, since the U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry under the U.S. Constitution, citing her religious beliefs.

She told the judge, “God’s moral law conflicts with my job duties. You can’t be separated from something that’s in your heart and in your soul.”

Bunning told Davis’ deputies in the clerk’s office that they could issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and that if they refused to comply with the law, they too could be held in contempt.

Before the hearing, about 200 demonstrators on both sides gathered outside the courthouse, some chanting slogans and many holding signs.

“Government employees swear an oath to uphold the Constitution, which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled protects the fundamental right of all Americans to marry the person they love,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group. “Since then, all across the nation, thousands of LGBT couples have rejoiced in marriage without incident. As a government employee, Kim Davis certainly has a right to her personal views, but she is not above the law or the principles enshrined in our Constitution.”

Davis, who was elected to the post and succeeded her mother in the office, is represented by the ultra-rightwing Liberty Counsel, which has a long history of defending anti-gay policies and actions.

In a statement released after the court hearing on Sept. 3, Liberty Counsel founder and attorney Mat Staver said, “Kim Davis is a woman of strong faith. She never sought to be in this position. She would rather not be in this predicament. But here she is. All she asks is to be true to God and her conscience. And the tragedy is that there are simple ways to accommodate her convictions. Just remove her name from the marriage licenses. That’s all she has asked from the beginning.”

Staver added, “Today’s event swill escalate this debate to a new level.”

Staver has suggested that the U.S. government allow the creation of “sanctuary cities” where same-sex couples are not allowed to marry.

Kentucky clerk to continue to deny marriage rights to gay couples through her appeal

Same-sex couples in a small eastern Kentucky county got everything they wanted in a ruling from a federal judge on Aug. 17, except for one sentence and except marriage licenses.

U.S. District Judge David Bunning denied Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis’ request to delay his ruling from last week ordering her to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. That ruling followed the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. However, Bunning then delayed his own decision, effectively granting Davis’ request while also denying it.

“If the Court decided to delay enforcement of its Order while Davis pursues an unpromising appeal, it would essentially give Plaintiffs a favorable legal ruling with no teeth and prolong the likely violation of their constitutional rights,” Bunning wrote.

But Bunning acknowledged that “emotions are running high on both sides of this debate” and said he would delay his ruling while Davis appeals to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Attorneys on both sides disagreed about the implications.

Dan Canon, representing the gay couples, said Davis remains under the judge’s original order.

But Mat Staver, who represents Davis and is the founder of Florida-based Liberty Counsel, said the convoluted order essentially grants her request for more time.

What is clear is that Davis will continue refusing to issue marriage licenses to anyone in this county of about 23,000 people, home to Morehead State University in the Appalachian foothills of eastern Kentucky. Until the case is resolved, no new wedding can be legally recognized in Rowan County unless the couple obtain a marriage license somewhere else.

“This is not something I decided because of this decision that came down,” Davis testified in federal court last month. “It was thought-out and, you know, I sought God on it.”

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. But it also “ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths.”

Bunning, and now the court of appeals, are left with the narrow issue of whether that ruling infringes on a local elected official’s religious beliefs.

Bunning says no, arguing that Davis is “free to believe that marriage is a union between one man and one woman, as many Americans do.”

“However, her religious convictions cannot excuse her from performing the duties that she took an oath to perform as Rowan County Clerk,” he wrote last week.

Davis’ lawyers compare her to other religious objectors, such as a nurse being forced to perform an abortion, a noncombatant ordered to fire on an enemy soldier, or a state official forced to participate in a convicted prisoner’s execution.

Clerking has been a family business in Rowan County. Davis worked for her mother for 27 years before replacing her in the elected post this year, and her son Nathan now works for her. He personally turned away a gay couple last week.

Around the United States, most opponents of gay and lesbian marriage rights are complying with the high court. Some other objectors in Kentucky submitted to the legal authorities after Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear told them to begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples, or resign.

Kim Davis is one of the last holdouts, and apparently the first to be challenged in federal court, putting her and tiny Rowan County in the middle of one of the country’s largest social upheavals.

Davis wants Kentucky lawmakers to allow county clerks to opt out of issuing marriage licenses for religious reasons. But the governor has declined to call a special session. Davis faces fines and possible jail time for contempt of court if she loses her challenge and still refuses to issue licenses. But she can only be impeached from her $80,000 a year job by the legislature, and impeachment proceedings are unlikely even after the lawmakers reconvene in January.

Davis, through her attorney, declined to be interviewed. Acquaintances describe her as easygoing but reserved. She hid behind her attorneys to avoid being photographed in a courthouse hallway and had to be told to speak up from the witness stand.

Shortly after she took office in January, she said she wrote every state lawmaker she could and pleaded to change the law, to no avail. So, on June 26 – the day the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide – Davis told her staff not to process any more licenses until further notice, no matter who asked.

Under Kentucky law, marriages must be licensed by a county clerk, who first determines if the couple meet all legal requirements – such as being unmarried, and old enough. And because every license issued in Rowan County is under her authority, she feels she can’t delegate the job to a non-objector.

“If I say that I authorize that, I’m saying I agree with it, and I can’t,” Davis told the court.

Rowan County Judge Executive Walter Blevins can issue marriage licenses if the clerk is “absent,” but the term is undefined in state law. Both Blevins and Bunning decided Davis not issuing licenses for religious reasons does not mean she is absent. That leaves Davis, for now, firmly in control.

Davis said her beliefs on sin are shaped by “God’s holy word” in the Bible, and that she attends church “every time the doors are open.” She also leads a weekly women’s Bible study at the county jail.

“I love them. They’re the best part of my Monday,” Davis said.

Davis testified that the Bible teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman and that sex outside of marriage is a sin. Court records indicate Davis herself married when she was 18 in 1984, filed for divorce 10 years later, and then filed for divorce again, from another husband, in 2006.

Many Christians believe divorce also is a sin, and an attorney for the same-sex couples repeatedly questioned her about this in court. Asked if she would religiously object to issuing a marriage license to someone who has been divorced, she said, “That’s between them and God.”

Davis has not said how she would react should she lose her appeal.

“I’ll deal with that when the time comes,” she said.

New Mexico clerks opposed to gay marriage quit

Officials say a rural eastern New Mexico county clerk and her deputy have resigned rather than abide by a state Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage.

Roosevelt County manager Charlene Webb says Clerk Donna Carpenter and Deputy Clerk Janet Collins announced their resignations Friday morning.

Webb declined to say why they quit. But county commissioners confirmed it was in protest of Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling that says it’s unconstitutional to bar same-sex couples from getting marriage licenses.

Commissioner Bill Cathey says the two had made it clear they would quit “rather than be associated with that.”

Webb says the clerk’s office is closed until the commission meets Monday to hire a replacement.

Carpenter doesn’t have a current phone listing, and there was no answer Friday at a listing for Collins.

Meanwhile, gay marriage opponents are vowing the fight is not over despite the court decision Thursday saying it was unconstitutional to bar same-sex couples from getting marriage licenses.

“If they are saying it is unconstitutional, we need to make it constitutional,” said state Sen. William Sharer, a Farmington Republican.

Sharer said he will ask the Legislature in January to put to voters a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage.

And groups like the Flora Vista-based Voices for Family Values say their members already are gathering signatures for petitions to present to lawmakers in support of such a move.

The ruling came after county officials asked the high court to clarify the law and establish a uniform state policy on gay marriage. Historically, county clerks in New Mexico have denied marriage licenses to same-sex couples because state statutes include a marriage license application with sections for male and female applicants.

However, the state’s more populous counties this fall began issuing licenses on their own and in response to lower court rulings.

The state’s more rural counties followed suit after Thursday’s ruling. The San Juan County Clerk’s Office gave its first marriage license to a same-sex couple Thursday afternoon, the Farmington Daily-Times reported.

Three hours later, Aztec women Luciana Velasquez and Deann Toadlena were married under Christmas lights at Orchard Park in downtown Farmington.

“We’ve been waiting for seven years. It’s the best day of my life,” said Toadlena, who plans to change her last name to Velasquez. “Everything I wanted was given to me today.”

It’s unclear how much traction Sharer’s proposal, which bucks a growing national tide toward legalizing gay marriage, will have come January. New Mexico is the 17th state to recognize the unions.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature repeatedly has turned down proposals for a constitutional amendment to allow voters to decide whether to legalize gay marriage.

Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican and who has opposed same-sex marriage, said she would have preferred to see voters, not the courts, decide the issue. But she urged New Mexicans to “respect one another in their discourse” and turn their focus to other issues facing the state.

“As we move forward, I am hopeful that we will not be divided, as we must come together to tackle very pressing issues, like reforming education and growing our economy, in the weeks and months ahead,” Martinez said.

On Friday, a federal judge in Utah ruled that state’s anti-gay marriage law unconstitutional and the first same-sex weddings took place.

Marriage equality activists seek courageous clerk in North Carolina

Marriage equality activists in North Carolina continue their search for an official willing to flout state law and issue marriage licenses as an act of personal conscience as similar officials in New Mexico and Pennsylvania have done this summer.

Two lesbian couples requested and were denied marriage licenses by Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen earlier this week. He said he’d be honored to do it but was barred by North Carolina law.

“I want you to know that I’m truly sorry I have to do this today,” Thigpen told Cheryl Bridges and Tracey Bridges of Greensboro, who spent $800 in legal bills to change their names to the one they share.

The legal status of their 12-year relationship gained greater importance after Cheryl Bridges, 55, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. The couple had a commitment ceremony in their North Carolina church and had powers of attorney and wills prepared, but there’s no legal guarantee state courts will follow their direction, said Tracey Bridges, 43.

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriages. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the federal government can’t refuse gay couples equal rights if they’ve been married in states that recognize same-sex marriage. A lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Greensboro cites that opinion in seeking to overrule North Carolina’s decision to enshrine a gay marriage ban in its constitution.

“Now that we’ve been denied here, we will go to Washington, D.C., and we will get married there and we will get the federal benefits that we want,” Tracey Bridges said. “Then we’re going to come back and we’re going to demand that that license from Washington, D.C., is going to be recognized.”

A state constitutional amendment North Carolina voters approved in May 2012 makes changing the law difficult and requires officials to recognize marriage only between a man and a woman.

The search by the Campaign for Southern Equality to find sympathetic North Carolina officials who would follow the example set by “rogue clerks” in other states illustrates why the amendment was important to proponents of traditional marriage, said Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the NC Values Coalition, one of the groups behind last year’s amendment campaign.

The group’s outreach to officials in nine counties, both urban and rural, is “harmful to the political process in North Carolina because what they’re encouraging registers of deeds to do is to actually break the law,” Fitzgerald said in an interview. “They couldn’t win at the ballot, and now they’re trying to win by inciting lawlessness, which ultimately leads to anarchy.”

The campaign to find a state official willing to violate North Carolina’s marriage law kicked off last month in Madison and Forsyth counties and is slated to continue for the next two months in Burke, Henderson, Mecklenburg, Buncombe, Transylvania and Cabarrus counties.

The effort prompted Fitzgerald to write registers of deeds in all 100 counties reminding them that crossing their sworn duty to uphold state laws could result in their removal from office and misdemeanor prosecution, which could require community service or jail time.

Shela Williams, 40, and Deborah Wade, 45, of Greensboro wear silver bands on their fingers to express their commitment to each other, but were also rejected in their bids for marriage licenses Monday.

“We don’t need a legal document to know that we love each other and to make a commitment to each other. We need a legal document to protect our relationship,” Wade said. “All we’re asking for to be recognized in this state is a legal piece of paper. We’re not asking any church to take a look at and recognize who we are.”

Iowa clerk guilty of falsifying papers for gay couple’s marriage license

A former rural Iowa court official pleaded guilty on May 6 to forgery for filing false documents to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple from central Florida, in the first case of its kind in Iowa.

Former Grundy County deputy clerk Brigitte Van Nice, 42, received a fine and a suspended sentence after entering the guilty pleas to perjury and forgery charges at the courthouse in Grundy Center, where she used to work.

The resolution drew criticism from Joab Penney of Williston, Fla., who says Van Nice’s actions duped him out of $150 and gave him an unending legal headache. Penney said he was outraged when court officials advised him May 6 he should hire an attorney to petition to void his marriage license – which he said should have never been issued in the first place.

“They found her guilty, but what I wanted – to have my marriage voided – didn’t happen,” he told The Associated Press. “Now I’m going to have to pay for voiding something that never even happened.”

Referring to the sentence issued by Judge Bradley Harris, he said: “That’s really light. That’s a legal document. If that was me or you, we would be going to prison, wouldn’t we?”

Van Nice was arrested and suspended from her job in October after investigators discovered that she issued a license last year to Penney and his then-boyfriend Joseph Parker, who had never set foot in Iowa. She was later fired for violating judicial branch policies, court administrator Linda Nilges said.

Penney and Parker contacted Van Nice’s office randomly when inquiring about how to get a license, which they could not get in Florida, where same-sex marriage is outlawed. Iowa allows same-sex marriage for couples who come to the state for a ceremony witnessed by two people.

Prosecutors say Van Nice issued them a license after she filed documents falsely claiming she had officiated a Valentine’s Day wedding for the couple and faked two witness signatures. Van Nice falsely told colleagues that she had met the men at a Waterloo truck stop, where they asked her to officiate and had lined up the witnesses.

The Florida men discovered the fraud months later, when Penney contacted an attorney to seek a divorce. The attorney was suspicious because the men had never been to Iowa and Van Nice mailed the application materials from her home, not the courthouse. The attorney contacted authorities asking for an investigation.

Penney said he now wants to marry a woman in Florida, but officials there say that he’s legally married to Parker and needs to obtain a divorce first.

“My marriage never happened. It should be voided. Period. Done. Never happened,” he said. “The lady told me a bunch of crap and got money out of me.”

County Recorder Charles Kruse said Monday he had no idea whether Penney’s marriage remained valid, but that he advised him to “contact an attorney and petition the court.”

Harris found Van Nice guilty of one count of aggravated misdemeanor forgery, and issued a deferred judgment on two other counts of forgery and perjury, meaning they will be wiped off her record if she stays out of trouble.

The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation has said that Van Nice’s arrest was the first of its kind in Iowa, which was the first Midwestern state to allow same-sex marriage in 2009. National experts on gay rights also said the case appeared to be unique.

Penney said he has been frustrated by the lack of answers from officials in Iowa and the legal limbo he’s in.

“I want to get married here to a woman, and I can’t,” he said. “It’s a major headache. I’ve changed my lifestyle because of all of this. It has offended me that much.”