By Steve Bittenbender
MOREHEAD, Ky. (Reuters) - Fans of Kim Davis have rallied around the Kentucky clerk while foes have lined up in protest since she touted her religious beliefs in defiance of a court order to issue same-sex marriage licenses.
From the overwhelmed florist in Morehead, Kentucky, delivering bouquets to her nearby office, to a fellow county clerk biking across the state to show solidarity, to a Republican presidential candidate calling hers a fight against tyranny, many are standing with her.
But detractors have been equally strident, reflected in calls for her resignation, lawsuits and the death threats Davis said she had received.
This week the U.S. Supreme Court declined to grant Davis a stay on a federal judge's injunction that would force her to issue marriage licenses to all comers.
Davis, 49, may not have sought the ire of gay marriage advocates and the approval of conservatives when she assumed her position in January as clerk, serving 27 years as deputy to her mother, Jean Bailey. Bailey served for 37 years, according to the Morehead News.
Her son Nathan is the third generation of the family employed in the clerk's office in Morehead, a city of nearly 7,000 that has more than a third living below the poverty line.
But Davis, a Democrat from the rural eastern Kentucky county, created a huge ruckus, drawing fans and foes alike to her modern offices in the county courthouse by refusing to provide marriage licenses of any kind. Citing her Apostolic Christian faith, Davis says marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
She has not issued a license of any kind since June when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide.
Davis did not respond to interview requests for this story.
Her faith grew central to her life only in the last four years following the death of her mother-in-law, she said in a statement issued Tuesday through her legal representatives, Liberty Counsel.
"I am not perfect. No one is," she said, before committing to continue serving Rowan County and boasting the likelihood of a fiscal surplus this year.
Davis was born in Breathitt County, the heart of Appalachia, about 60 miles (97 km) south of Morehead. She has been married four times, twice to the same man, her current husband Joe Davis. Of her four children, twins were born out of wedlock in 1994.
STANDING HER GROUND
Davis' relatively newfound faith and obstinance with a potential contempt of court order does not surprise those that know her.
"Kim is one of those people, she's a very religious person and she believes what she says. I don't believe she'll ever issue a marriage license to anybody other than a man and a woman," said Doug Morgan, the chairman of the Rowan County Republicans. The county Democratic chairman declined to comment.
Glen Moore, a former neighbor who knows Davis' family, was at the clerk's office on Tuesday to get his 1999 Jeep SUV tags renewed and watched a gay couple being turned away. He said Davis looked calm.
"I can see her point, but if you are an elected official you need to do your job," he said.
Morehead's city council in 2013 extended discrimination protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people for employment, housing and public accommodations.
The story has drawn national attention and on Wednesday even garnered support from Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, a favorite of social conservatives.
"I called to encourage her and thank her for not capitulating to what is really nothing less than judicial tyranny," he told reporters in South Carolina according to a video on the Island Packet news website.
There are even dueling pages on Facebook: "Stand with Kim Davis, Kentucky Clerk" versus "Jail Kim Davis, Rowan County Clerk."
Lois Hawkins, who works in the courthouse where the clerk's office is located, said Davis does a lot of good.
"Kim ministers to women in jail when nobody else will," Hawkins said.
Fellow Kentucky clerk, Casey Davis from Casey County, is riding his bicycle across the state to rally support for her. The two are not related.
Casey County has also stopped issuing marriage licenses since the Supreme Court ruling. In Kentucky's Whitley County, one official said that office is issuing traditional marriage licenses for men and women, but no one had asked for a same-sex license.
Davis, a fixture in the county clerk's office for nearly three decades, based her decision upon scripture, saying it "has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God's word."
On Wednesday afternoon, Davis' lawyers filed an emergency motion, asking U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning for an injunction blocking his order to resume issuing licenses until her appeal has been heard. She faces a potential contempt of court ruling from Bunning in a Thursday hearing in Ashland, Kentucky.
For the time being the controversy is proving a boon for one of Morehead's florists where local and out-of-state fans of Davis are keeping employees at Atkinson Florist hopping.
"I kinda feel sorry for her," said employee Becky Reeder, who delivered a flower arrangement to Davis on Wednesday morning. "She's standing up for what she believes."
(Writing and additional reporting by Daniel Bases in New York and Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)