Knox County clerk on same-sex marriage licenses: ‘You have to set your personal beliefs aside,’ follow law

"We don't argue with the law. We carry out the law."

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Clerks across Tennessee have been issuing marriage licenses since late June to same-sex couples. Kentucky clerk Kim Davis remains in jail while her deputy clerks issue same-sex marriage licenses out of her office.

Davis has been rejecting couples of marriage licenses, but recently a judge told Davis her religious beliefs don’t allow her to disobey the law and found her in contempt of court.

The Knox County Clerk’s Office issuing those marriage licenses to all couples is now the norm.

Related story: With defiant county clerk behind bars, gay Kentucky couple receives marriage license

“We don’t argue with the law. We carry out the law,” said Knox County Clerk Foster Arnett.

Arnett has held this seat for seven years.

Knox Couty Clerk Foster Arnett
Knox Couty Clerk Foster Arnett

“I think you have to set your personal beliefs aside. In this elected position, all took an oath to uphold the constitutions of the state of Tennessee, charter of Knox County and it says, ‘Will do whatever the law of the land is.'”

Arnett says it was Kim Davis’s call when she denied marriage licenses because her beliefs oppose the Supreme Court ruling.

“Those are her convictions. My convictions are my convictions. But my job is what my job is. Seeing that’s what the law is, I have to follow the law and that’s what I’m going to do,” said Arnett.

The First Amendment protects our right to religious freedom, but law professors at the University of Tennessee say it doesn’t apply in the Kentucky case.

“She could stand there and say, ‘I am against same-sex marriage,’ but once she takes an official act to deny a marriage license to a couple because they’re a same-sex couple, then she’s no longer protected,” said Associate Professor of Law David Wolitz.

Wolitz says this move is unusual and a rare act of defiance.

Associate Professor of Law David Wolitz
Associate Professor of Law David Wolitz

“We have thousands of public officials throughout the country who execute the laws that they may not agree with.”

Arnett says he has 90 people on staff in six different offices.

“We discussed it and we’ve got some people who’ve voiced their opposition to doing it, but they all said, ‘It’s our job. It’s the law. We’ll do it.’ ”

One thing that has changed – since the same-sex marriage ruling, all marriage ceremonies performed by the clerk’s office now happen at the old courthouse downtown.

Davis is being held in civil contempt. She has not been criminally charged, nor convicted of a crime, and is not serving any kind of prison sentence. The judge is simply deciding how to enforce his order that Davis begin issuing marriage licenses.

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