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Kim Davis and the Kentucky compromise: a way forward for Evangelical officials?

A federal judge has approved the Rowan County clerk's decision to remove her name from all marriage licenses to avoid appearing to personally sanction same-sex marriages.

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Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis performs her job at the Rowan County Courthouse in Morehead, Ky., Aug. 18.

Timothy D. Easley/AP/File

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The Kentucky county clerk who last year was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couple has not interfered in the licensing process since her release, according to the judge that sent her to jail.

US District Court Judge David Bunning ruled Tuesday that Kim Davis, the Rowan County clerk who defied Judge Bunning’s court order last fall, has not obstructed her deputies from distributing gay couples’ licenses and said that the documents issued without her name on them should be considered valid.

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“There has been no indication that Davis has continued to interfere with the issuance of marriage licenses since September 20, 2015,” Bunning wrote in his decision. “Moreover, there is every reason to believe that any altered licenses issued between September 14, 2015 and September 20, 2015 would be recognized as valid under Kentucky law.”

Religious conservatives around the United States have been watching Ms. Davis’s case closely as they seek to reconcile their own religious beliefs with the US Supreme Court’s landmark decision in June legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Davis’s ultimate solution to remove her name from marriage licenses could potentially become a model for other government officials who do not wish to personally approve of same-sex unions but who are obligated by their station to provide government approval.

Davis rose to national prominence shortly after the Supreme Court ruling when she refused to issue licenses for gay couples in her jurisdiction, citing her Apostolic Christian beliefs as being opposed to gay marriage. Eventually being held in contempt of court for her continued refusal, she spent five nights in jail but eventually gave in and allowed the documents to be issued in Rowan County.

Since then, though, she has altered all the licenses given out in the county, removing her name and title from them. Kentucky governor Matt Bevin recently signed an executive order removing all the state clerks’ names from such documents to avoid future religious conflicts, and the attorney general declared that the altered licenses – including Davis’ – are valid.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which previously sued Davis on behalf of several same-sex couples over her initial refusals in the case that sent her to jail, requested that Davis be forced to reissue the altered licenses with her name and credentials included, but Bunning maintained that Davis was in the clear.

An ACLU lawyer, Ria Mar, said it would be up to higher courts and state officials to decide on the status of the altered licenses as Bunning’s ruling cannot be appealed, while expressing satisfaction on behalf of couples affected by the episode.

“The bottom line is that all loving couples in Rowan County can now receive marriage licenses, and we'll continue to fight to ensure that remains the case,” she said, according to Reuters.

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As Davis has been compliant since finally allowing licenses to be issued last fall, her lawyer, Mathew Staver, said he thought the ongoing proceedings were more about his client than the licenses.

“Today’s ruling by Judge Bunning rejected the ACLU’s request to hold Kim Davis in contempt of court,” he said in a press release by Liberty Counsel. “From the beginning we have said the ACLU is not interest in marriage licenses. They want Kim Davis’s scalp. They want to force her to violate her conscience. I am glad the court rejected this bully tactic.”

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.