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Bill would protect clerks who refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples

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HOPKINSVILLE, Ky. — A new bill introduced Wednesday in Kentucky would protect county clerks from civil and criminal liability if they refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

WSMV reports supporters of the bill said this is a matter of religious freedom, but opponents argued it would be a strike against equality and the law.

At the Christian County Clerk’s Office Thursday, Dawn Vaughn and Crystal Eldridge waited to sign a piece of paper that would change their lives.

“We’re filing for our marriage license so we can get married tomorrow at 9 a.m.,” Vaughn said.

On their big day, Vaughn and Eldridge said they are also thinking of other couples.

“It’s not right to pass judgment on who can and can’t be married,” Vaughn said. “Everyone should have the equal rights to be married. They should not have any right to say ‘yes, they can be married’ or ‘no, they can’t be married.’ It’s not their judgment. They don’t have to go home and be with the lesbian or gay couples getting married.”

Rev. Benjamin Hart of Grace Episcopal Church said it’s important for him to speak in support of the right for all to marry.

“For someone to use religion to speak against justice is not in keeping with what we believe,” Hart said. “We strive for justice and peace among all people and try to uphold the dignity of every human being. For us, it’s a justice matter, and it’s a matter of dignity. What is talked about most by Jesus is he’s speaking against people in authority, religious authority using their power for bad.”

Rep. David Meade, R-Stanford, the co-sponsor of the bill, said clerks shouldn’t have to give up their religious beliefs when they take office.

“They took their oaths under those pretenses, and it’s been dumped on those clerks’ laps,” Meade said. “One of the county clerks said that he has a letter that’s signed by 50 other clerks across the state. There are some who haven’t come forward and said anything because they’re afraid of some civil action.”

The bill follows a lawsuit by the ACLU against Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis for denying all licenses to couples since the Supreme Court ruling.

“These plaintiffs do not have the right to force her to do that,” said Jonathan Christman, Davis’ attorney. “Whatever rights they have to same-sex marriage as announced by the Supreme Court does not overrule the First Amendment.”

Whatever the outcome of the bill, Christian County Clerk Michael Kem said licenses will continue to couples at his office.

“I swore to uphold the constitution of the United States, and I’m going to do it,” said Kem. “I don’t feel like I can pick and choose who I give licenses to. I really don’t think any legislation’s going to go anywhere.”

People on both sides of the issue have until a January session to hear what becomes of the bill.