Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who gained noteriety in 2015 for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in defiance of the US Supreme Court, can be sued for damages, a federal appeals court unanimously ruled on Friday.
Two of the couples who were refused licenses by Davis – Will Smith and James Yates, and David Ermold and David Moore – can now proceed with lawsuits against her after the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Davis can be sued in her capacity as an individual.
The judges’ 3-0 ruling states that while Davis can now be individually sued, sovereign immunity shields her from being sued in her capacity as Rowan County Clerk.
Davis, a born-again Christian, had claimed that the 2015 US Supreme Court decision recognising a constitutional right to same-sex marriage did not apply to her because she stopped issuing all marriage licenses regardless of sexual orientation, and that the plaintiffs could have obtained licenses elsewhere.
However, the appeals court upheld the Supreme Court’s judgement as being “as sweeping as it was unequivocal,” and that the two couples, who are now married, could attempt to show that Davis acted unreasonably against them.
“In short, plaintiffs pleaded a violation of their right to marry: a right the Supreme Court clearly established,” Circuit Judge Richard Griffin wrote.
Davis had been appealing an earlier District Court judgement against her.
However the Circuit Court judges ruled that “The District Court … correctly denied qualified immunity to Davis.”
Davis is now retired after losing her re-election bid to be Rowan County Clerk last year.