COLUMBIA, Mo. — A candidate for attorney general in Missouri voiced support for Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk that was jailed for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, while calling on better legal protections for Missouri’s own government employees.
Hawley took to social media to call Davis’ arrest “tragic” and promised to defend Missouri’s own clerks who might follow Davis’ example and cite their faith while refusing to grant same-sex marriage licenses. But in Missouri, the county recorders of deeds, not the clerk, issues licenses. Hawley later corrected his statement and promised to protect all government officials and their faith “to the maximum extent possible under Missouri law.”
While Hawley stated that a recorder of deeds should be able to opt-out of issuing a same-sex marriage licenses or designate a deputy to issue them, Davis was arrested because she also forbade her deputies to issue licenses as well. Hawley, a Republican professor of law at the University of Missouri-Columbia, cited Missouri’s own Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which forbids the government from “compelling or restricting a person’s exercise of religion.”
Hawley says this statute clearly covers a recorder refusing to issue a same-sex marriage license in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling last June that legalized same-sex marriages nationwide despite bans on the unions in several individual states.
But the law also gives the government licenses to compel a religious person to perform certain duties if the requirement is “essential to further a compelling government interest, and is not unduly restrictive considering the relevant circumstances.” Hawley has made it clear that he will argue in favor of objectors like Davis, citing the state’s own religious freedom law.
Democratic Attorney General candidate Jake Zimmerman has already voiced concerns about Hawley’s approach, while the ACLU of Missouri has publicly declared that Davis cannot “force” her religious views on others while serving in her position as a government official.
“Kim Davis released from jail today,” Hawley wrote on Facebook this afternoon. “This is great news, and the right result. Others in the office issue the licenses and Kim is free. Win for religious liberty.”
Hawley is facing state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Columbia Republican, in the primary.
Lawyers for Davis announced she would be released from jail today, but only under the condition she does not prohibit her deputies from issuing licenses to gay couples.
Collin Reischman was the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.