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Kim Davis violated same-sex couples' rights by refusing marriage licenses, judge says

FILE - In this Sept. 14, 2015, file photo, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis makes a statement to the media at the front door of the Rowan County Judicial Center in Morehead, Ky. Davis, the Kentucky clerk who went to jail in 2015 for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, wants a second term in office. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)
A jury will decide whether former county clerk Kim Davis is responsible for legal fees and other monetary damages after she refused to sign marriage certificates for same-sex couples in 2015.

Kim Davis — the former clerk in Kentucky whose refusalto sign marriage certificates for same-sex couples grabbed national headlines in 2015 — violated their constitutional rights, a federal judge found.

The decision leaves open the question of whether the former clerk is responsible for the legal fees of the two couples who sued and other monetary damages that have accrued over the nearly seven years of legal back-and-forth.

A jury will decide whether Davis is liable for those fees and other damages, which likely stands around hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"After S-E-V-E-N years, Judge Bunning finally ruled that Kim Davis intentionally violated our constitutional rights," David Ermold tweeted. He is one of the people initially denied a marriage license by Davis.

"Now, the question is will they hold her financially responsible for the insensitive and irrational legal mess that SHE created," he said. "It feels like seven years of legal purgatory."

The Liberty Counsel, which represents Davis, says it "will continue to argue that she is not liable for damages because she was entitled to a religious accommodation (which Governor Mat Bevin and the legislature granted)."

"Davis argues that a finding of liability would violate the First Amendment Free Exercise of Religion," says the counsel, a religious liberty organization that litigates cases involving evangelical Christian values.

Davis claims 'God's authority' to deny marriage licenses

The legal battle started in 2015 when Davis, in her capacity of a county clerk, defied the Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. It's the landmark decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

She said distributing marriage licenses to such couples went against her beliefs as a member of the Apostolic Church, arguing that she could not give them a marriage license "under God's authority."

Her refusal quickly drew support from social conservatives and anger from same-sex marriage advocates.

Ermold and now-husband David Moore were denied marriage licenses three times, and another couple — James Yates and Will Smith — were denied licenses four times. A deputy clerk finally approved their licenses while Davis spent five days in jail for contempt of court.

Both couples say the ordeal has caused mental anguish and emotional harm, among other issues. Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.