FRANKFORT, Ky. (BP) — Kentucky’s governor-elect has promised to remove county clerks’ names from marriage licenses in an effort to safeguard the religious liberty of clerks who object to issuing licenses for same-sex couples.
Matt Bevin, who will become Kentucky’s second Republican governor in four decades when he takes office in December, told reporters Nov. 6 he disagrees with outgoing Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear’s refusal to alter marriage license forms to accommodate the religious beliefs of county clerks like Kim Davis, who was jailed for five days in September for refusing to grant licenses to same-sex couples based on her Christian beliefs.
Beshear has said he lacks authority to remove county clerks’ names from marriage licenses, and he refused to call a special session of the state legislature to do so when Davis became embroiled in a legal conflict regarding the exercise of her religious convictions. Among Beshear’s concerns was that a special session would have cost taxpayers $60,000, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Bevin called Beshear’s argument that the marriage license form cannot be changed through an executive order “baloney,” according to the Associated Press. “We’ve already changed those forms three times for crying out loud,” he said. “We will take the names off the forms. We will do that by executive order. We will do it right out of the gate.”
Davis had already removed her name from marriage licenses in Rowan County, the eastern Kentucky county where she serves, and was awaiting a federal judge’s ruling on whether the change was legal, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Beshear’s son Andy Beshear was elected state attorney general Nov. 3, but his spokesman did not respond to the Courier-Journal’s inquiry regarding whether he would challenge Bevin’s executive order.
Davis’s attorney Mat Staver, founder of the Christian legal organization Liberty Counsel, praised Bevin’s decision.
“It is refreshing to have someone with the integrity, character and concern of Matt Bevin leading the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” Staver said in a statement. “Gov. Steve Beshear could have resolved this marriage license issue a long time ago, but he chose to ignore the plea for help. Gov.-elect Bevin’s impending executive order is a welcome relief for Kim Davis and should be for everyone who cherishes religious freedom.”
Two Southern Baptist Theological Seminary officials echoed the praise. Bevin’s relationship with Southern Seminary extends back to at least 2012, when he partnered with the seminary to endow the Bevin Center for Missions Mobilization in honor of his late daughter Brittiney, who had a passion for missions and was killed in a 2003 car accident near Southern’s campus.
Southern President R. Albert Mohler Jr. told the Courier-Journal, “I firmly expect that the governor-elect will continue to be concerned about religious liberty and use the influence of his office and his constitutional authority to defend religious liberty.”
Hershael York, Southern’s Victor and Louise Lester Professor of Christian Preaching, told the Courier-Journal, “What we can expect from this governor is that he is going to be serious about protecting religious liberty. I believe he is going to work to protect the legitimate constitutional rights of those whose consciences are bound by adherence to Scripture.”
Bevin explained his position on marriage licenses in detail in an Oct. 27 Q&A with the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
“I believe the government should be out of the marriage business altogether,” Bevin said in the written Q&A posted at KentuckyToday.com. “We can comply with the law while protecting our citizens’ rights to freedom of religion simply by separating the religious covenant of marriage from the legal, contractual relationship established by marriage as recognized by the state. The two are separate, and they should be treated as such. Two consenting adults should not need to ask for permission from the government to enter into a contractual relationship — a license should not be needed. As with other contracts, the government’s role should be limited to recording, interpreting or enforcing such contracts in times of dispute. Such a plan would remove or mitigate any potential for conflict between the expanded definition of marriage and the religious liberty rights of our clerks and other public servants.
“In the meantime, however, with regard to county clerks, I submitted a proposal back in July that would have allowed for compliance with the expanded definition of marriage, while still accommodating the religious beliefs of those who serve our state,” Bevin continued. “If we intend to continue with a licensing process, we can make marriage licenses, or a marriage contract template, available as we do with other standard legal forms. Forms can be available for pickup or download, as you might download a power of attorney form. The form would then be presented to those with authority to approve or solemnize a marriage contract. That duly executed marriage contract could then be filed and recorded at the county clerk’s office just like a mortgage, lien, deed, etc.”