by Ronnie Ellis – FRANKFORT – A bill that would remove county clerks’ signatures from marriage licenses has hit a snag in the state Senate.
Senate Bill 5, sponsored by Sen. Steve West, R-Paris, is a response to county clerks’ objection to signing marriage licenses for same- sex couples in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same sex marriage.
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis notoriously refused to follow a federal judge’s order to sign licenses and ended up in jail for contempt of court for five days. She also became a celebrated symbol nationally for those opposed to the court ruling and the controversy is thought to have produced an electoral advantage of Republican Matt Bevin who went on to become Kentucky’s governor in the fall election.
Bevin issued an executive order removing the requirement of clerks’ signatures, and West said his bill was an effort to codify that order.
All his original bill would have done is to substitute the words “the name and title of the official” for the previous language which read “the signature of the county clerk or the deputy clerk.”
But West said Wednesday that clerks and others have raised some additional concerns.
“There was some concern that the clerk’s name was still in the top section (of the license form),” said West. “You had to print it in; you didn’t have to sign but you had to print it in. So we’re debating should we take that out as well.”
Some clerks also want a second license form, West said, one for opposite-sex couples which would include the words “bride” and “groom” rather than the current “first party” and “second party.”
The bill was scheduled for a hearing in the Senate State and Local Government Committee Wednesday but Committee Chair Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, said the bill required some changes in wording but he expected to take up the bill next week.
Genealogists also want the forms to indicate gender of the married couple for record keeping and research.
But West said most clerks oppose making marriage licenses downloadable from the internet, something which Bevin has proposed.
“There’s been some talk about that,” West said, “but as of right now I don’t think that’s on the table.”
Some county clerks believe the license, the application process and visit to their offices provides a lasting political benefit – though most won’t offer that reason for wanting to retain the process within their offices.
West, whose senate district includes Rowan County, said he has not spoken with Davis about testifying on behalf of his bill but since she’s one of his constituents he plans to talk to her about the bill “just out of courtesy because she’s in my district.”
West said he expects the concerns about language and how to include information sought by the clerks will be resolved in time for Bowen’s committee to take up the bill when it meets next week.
In other action, Bowen’s committee unanimously passed out a proposed constitutional amendment which would move Kentucky’s elections for statewide constitutional officers to even-numbered years.
The amendment’s sponsor, Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, says the change would save the state $3.5 million every four years and counties $14 million combined for the same period.
He also believes it will increase voter turnout for elections for governor and other constitutional offices because Kentucky’s highest turnout elections typically are during years when the presidential election occurs.
Should the House go along and then voters approve the amendment on the November election, those constitutional officers elected in 2019 would serve one five-year term and then be up for election in 2024 and every four years thereafter.