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Kim Davis is ordered to pay $100,000 to same-sex couple she denied marriage license

Kim Davis, the former clerk in Rowan County, Ky., was ordered to pay damages to a couple whom she denied a marriage license. Davis is seen here in 2015.
Timothy D. Easley
Kim Davis, the former clerk in Rowan County, Ky., was ordered to pay damages to a couple whom she denied a marriage license. Davis is seen here in 2015.

Updated September 14, 2023 at 2:35 PM ET

A federal jury has awarded $100,000 to a same-sex couple who sued a former county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue them a marriage license, claiming that doing so would violate her religious beliefs.

Kim Davis, the former clerk in Rowan County, Ky., was sued by two same-sex couples to whom she refused to grant marriage licenses. The district court found Davis personally liable in both cases, but only awarded damages in one.

In the case Ermold v. Davis, the jury awarded $50,000 to each of the plaintiffs, David Ermold and David Moore, according to attorneys for Davis. No damages were awarded in the case Yates v. Davis.

A federal judge ruled last year that Davis had violated the plaintiffs' constitutional rights.

Ermold and Moore's co-counsel, Joe Buckles, told NPR he was "thrilled" and that his clients were "completely vindicated" by the jury's verdict.

"The Supreme Court says that my clients have a constitutional right to marry under the 14th Amendment," said Buckles. "But this case isn't really about [Davis's] religion. The case isn't really about our clients' right to marry. The case is about a government official that just refused to do her job. It's a pretty simple case."

Damages of $50,000 each for Ermold and Moore was the full amount his clients requested, Buckles said.

Rene Heinrich, an attorney who represented James Yates and Will Smith in the other case, said she celebrates with Ermold and Moore, but is disappointed at the verdict of no damages for her clients.

"I can only say that our clients were gutted and even more dejected when after 8 years yet another group of people decided that while their Constitutional rights were broken and they were thrust into a circus not of their making, they suffered no damages," she said in an email to NPR.

Buckles called it a "terrible injustice" that the jury awarded nothing in damages to the other couple: "Their rights were violated, too. I find it shocking that a jury would award zero dollars for their violation of their constitutional rights."

The plaintiffs have 30 days to petition for their attorney fees and costs to be covered.

The saga began in 2015 after the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states with the Obergefell v. Hodges decision. Davis declared that issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples went against her beliefs as a member of the Apostolic Church that marriage should only be between one man and one woman.

Eventually a deputy clerk approved the two couples' requests for marriage licenses, and Davis went to jail for five days for contempt of court. She was later defeated in her bid for reelection — a race that briefly saw Ermold vie for the position.

"We look forward to appealing this decision for Kim Davis," said Mat Staver, an attorney for Davis. "We will argue religious accommodation under the First Amendment, and other state and federal laws. We will also argue that Obergefell v. Hodges was wrongly decided and should be overturned."

An appeal in the case would head to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court previously declined to hear an appeal from Davis' lawyers in 2020.

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Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.