FRANKFORT (AP) — A Kentucky clerk who spent five days in jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples has been voted the state’s top news story of 2015.
Gay rights activists rejoiced in June when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned four state bans on same-sex marriage, effectively legalizing gay weddings across the country for the first time.
But the biggest resistance to the ruling did not come from a Republican presidential candidate or an evangelical pastor. It came from a soft-spoken Democrat in Morehead, Kentucky, who said her religious faith made it impossible for her to comply.
“What I believe, I cannot be separated from,” Davis said. ‘If you believe it, if you believe the word of God and you believe it and you live it and you breathe it and it is your heart, mind body and soul, you can’t be separated from that.”
Four couples, two gay and two straight, sued Davis with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. The Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based law firm with a history of suing public entities over religious freedom issues, rushed to Davis’ defense. What followed were months of court rulings, political rallies, protests and a parade of satellite trucks from news agencies around the world as Kentucky became the international symbol of the same-sex marriage debate.
Eventually, U.S. District Judge David Bunning threw Davis in jail for refusing to obey his order that she issue marriage licenses. She spent five days behind bars, only to be dramatically released on the same day Republican two presidential candidates visited her. She walked out of the front door and appeared on the back of a flatbed truck with candidate Mike Huckabee in front of thousands of screaming supporters, backed by a 150-voice church choir.
Even Pope Francis, who visited U.S. soil for the first time in September, ignited the issue when he met with Davis in Washington and thanked her for her courage, according to an account of the meeting provided by Davis’ attorney. The Vatican later issued a statement saying the Pope’s meeting with Davis was “not considered a form of support for her position.”
“Kim Davis’ legal fight over same-sex marriages challenged the court’s judgment not just in Kentucky but the entire world,” WSPD Local 6 news producer Kelly Kim said in explaining why she voted for Davis as the state’s top story of 2015. “It prompted a political debate among lawmakers, presidential candidates and forced a global review on same-sex rights. It’s a strong example of how one person managed to affect the world.”
Davis’ office is now issuing marriage licenses to all eligible couples, but her lawsuit is still pending in federal court. Her case was voted as the top news story of the year by subscribers and staff for The Associated Press.
Kentucky’s No. 2 story was the surprising election of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who returned to politics after being shunned by state party leaders for challenging U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in the 2014 primary. Bevin campaigned on repealing kynect and the state’s expanded Medicaid program, two initiatives that have brought taxpayer-subsidized health insurance to more than half a million Kentuckians.
And his election made history as just the state’s second Republican governor in the past four decades and by having Jenean Hampton as his lieutenant governor, the first time a black person has ever won statewide office in Kentucky’s history.
“(Bevin’s election) illustrates the political shift that has been taking place across Kentucky,” WFPL Radio Broadcast Managing Editor Rick Howlett said. “It sets the stage for the possible (Republican) takeover of the state House for the first time in nearly a century.”
Other stories rounding out the top 10 are:
• American Pharoah wins the Kentucky Derby en route to becoming the first triple crown winner in 37 years.
• Four die during devastating flooding in eastern Kentucky.
• A 7-year-old girl survives a plane crash that killed four people, including her parents, by walking a mile through the woods to find help.
• Distillery workers indicted in massive theft of Kentucky bourbon.
• U.S. Sen. Rand Paul runs for president and re-election to his Senate at the same time.
• Kentucky’s last union coal mine shuts down in western Kentucky.
• University of Louisville says it is investigating claims that a staffer got escorts for basketball recruits.
• Former senator, governor Wendell Ford dies.