LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Defiant Kentucky clerk Kim Davis stood on a stage in a Washington, D.C., hotel Friday night and spread her arms triumphantly.
“I am only one, but we are many,” she exclaimed to the crowd, and thanked God for the courage to continue her crusade against gay marriage.
Davis, who spent five days behind bars in early September for violating a federal court order, was honored by conservative lobbying group Family Research Council Friday night for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite the Supreme Court’s decision in June that effectively legalized gay marriage across the nation.
Earlier in the day, Davis, a lifelong Democrat, announced she is switching to the Republican Party because she feels abandoned by Democrats.
“I’ve always been a Democrat, but the party left me,” Davis said, according to the law firm representing her.
After the Supreme Court’s decision, a federal judge ordered Davis to issue the licenses, but she refused, and opted to spend five days in jail rather than license a gay marriage. The ordeal propelled her to folk hero status among some on the religious right.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, invited her and her husband Joe onto the stage Friday night, presented her with flowers and a poster-sized framed certificate and called her a “model of personal courage.”
Davis was elected Rowan County clerk last fall as a Democrat. She replaced her mother, also a Democrat, who served as county clerk for 37 years.
But Republicans, not Democrats, came to her defense.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist preacher running for president but trailing badly in the polls, rushed to Davis’ side, visited her in jail and held a religious freedom rally on the jailhouse lawn. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz also traveled to Kentucky to bask in her defiance.
Davis meanwhile lumps blame for her legal problems on Steve Beshear, the state’s Democratic governor, who refused to call the state legislature for a special session and allow lawmakers to hammer out a way to exempt religious clerks from issuing the licenses. The governor instead told clerks to either issue the licenses or resign.
So when a Reuters reporter asked her in Washington on Friday about the support she’d received from the GOP, Davis revealed that she decided last week to switch her allegiances to the Republican ticket, her attorney, Mat Staver, wrote in a statement.
“However, the issue of religious freedom in this case is not a partisan issue,” he added. “It is neither Republican nor Democrat. It is an inalienable right and what makes America the land of liberty.”
Davis declined an interview request from The Associated Press.
Davis was released from jail earlier this month on the condition that she not interfere with her deputies issuing the licenses. But her legal woes persist: On the day she returned to the office, Davis altered the license forms to delete her name and her office, and replaced it with the line “pursuant to federal court order.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, which sued her on behalf of the couples she turned away, questioned the validity of the licenses, asked the judge to order her to reissue them or consider punishing her again.
Her lawyer, Mat Staver, founder of the Liberty Counsel, a law firm that opposes gay rights, did not say in his remarks Friday night what she intends to do, though hinted that she will not bow to the court’s order: she will not resign, he said, and she will not betray her conscience.
He said she has received thousands of letters from every state and across the globe, he claimed. People have stopped her in airports this week, as she’s traveled to make the rounds on television news programs. Strangers have hugged her, flashed her thumbs’ up, and stopped her to take selfies, Staver claimed.
He dismissed widespread accusations that Davis is a hypocrite for taking a stand on traditional marriage. She has been divorced three times and married four, including twice to her current husband. She was saved four years ago, he reminded the crowd.
Davis said little when she took the stage Friday night.
She choked back tears, thanked the crowd and thanked the Lord.
“Without him, none of this would have been possible,” the clerk said, “for he is my strength that carried me.”