Clerk’s gay marriage protest divides the Republican field

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Republican presidential candidates are split on whether a Kentucky county clerk should be forced to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The case of Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who has cited religious objections in refusing to issue the licenses, has pushed gay marriage toward the center of political debate at a time when the Republican Party is grappling with its stance on the issue.

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The clerk’s crusade has become the first major legal flare-up over gay marriage since the Supreme Court’s decision in late June that legalized gay marriage nationwide.

Most of the Republican presidential candidates denounced the high court’s ruling, calling it judicial overreach that threatens the religious liberty of faith-based organizations and business owners.

Democrats mostly cheered the court while dismissing the warnings about religious freedom as overblown.

Davis is scheduled to appear in court Thursday morning after defying a judge's order to issue the licenses, a ruling that the Supreme Court itself refused to block.

With attention on the case growing, presidential contenders are beginning to stake out their positions on whether Davis should be compelled to issue the licenses.

Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister, on Wednesday gave Davis a full-throated endorsement after speaking to her on the phone.

"She's a Democrat, and I salute her today. I stand with her," Huckabee told reporters during a campaign stop in South Carolina. 

Other Republican presidential candidates have said they support people’s right to oppose gay marriage but argued that Davis has a responsibility to follow the law.

"When you are a government employee as opposed to, say, an employee of another kind of organization, then in essence, you are agreeing to act as an arm of the government,” said Carly Fiorina.

Here’s where some of the Republican contenders stand on the brewing controversy.

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (Ark.): 'I salute her'

Huckabee said Wednesday that Davis "is showing more courage, more conviction and more of a better understanding of the Constitution than virtually any elected official in America, than virtually any candidate for candidate and certainly more than many of the people who run our government in Washington."

Huckabee noted he spoke with Davis by phone earlier in the day. "I called to encourage her and to thank her for not capitulating to what is really nothing less than judicial tyranny." 

Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulWhat to watch for on Day 2 at the GOP convention Cyber squatters sitting on valuable VP web addresses Majority of GOP senators to attend Trump convention MORE (Ky.): Protest 'part of the American way'

"I think one way to get around the whole idea of what the Supreme Court is forcing on the states is for the states to just get out of the business of giving out licenses," Paul said Monday on Boston Herald Radio, mentioning Alabama, and saying those who want a contract should go to a church.

"I do believe everyone has a right to a contract. There never should have been limitations on people of the same sex having contracts," Paul said. "But I do object to the state putting its imprimatur to the specialness of marriage on something that's different than what most people have defined as marriage for most of history."

"I do think people who do stand up and are making a stand to say they believe in something is an important part of the American way."

Gov. Chris Christie (N.J.): Government employees have 'different obligation'

"What I've said before is for someone who works in the government has a bit of a different obligation than someone who's in the private sector or, obviously, working for educational institutions that's religiously based or others," Christie said Wednesday on conservative radio host Laura Ingraham's show, according to CBS.

"But my point is we have to protect religious liberty and people's ability to be able to practice their religion freely and openly, and of course we have to enforce the law too."

Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioDem lawmakers rally Muslims against Trump Rubio presses Obama to spend Zika money faster The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Fla.): Government should respect clerk’s beliefs

“We should seek a balance between government’s responsibility to abide by the laws of our republic and allowing people to stand by their religious convictions,” Rubio told the New York Times.

“While the clerk’s office has a governmental duty to carry out the law, there should be a way to protect the religious freedom and conscience rights of individuals working in the office,” he added.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamTrump: 'I hope' Russia is able to get Clinton's emails Syria activists cheer Kaine pick Vulnerable GOP senators praise Kaine MORE (S.C.): 'Comply with the law or resign'

"As a public official, comply with the law or resign," Graham said on conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt's show Tuesday.

"The rule of the law is the rule of law. That's what we are, a rule-of-law nation. I appreciate her conviction. I support traditional marriage," Graham said. "But she's accepted a job where she has to apply the law to everyone, and that's her choice."

Businesswoman Carly Fiorina: 'Not appropriate' 

“First, I think that we must protect religious liberties with great passion and be willing to expend a lot of political capital to do so now, because it’s clear religious liberty is under assault in many, many ways,” Fiorina said Tuesday on Hugh Hewitt's show.

“Given the role that she is playing, given the fact that the government is paying her salary, I think that is not appropriate,” Fiorina answered when asked whether the clerk should continue practicing civil disobedience. 

“Now, that’s my personal opinion. Others may disagree with that, but I think it’s a very different situation for her than someone in a hospital who’s asked to perform an abortion or someone at a florist who’s asked to serve a gay wedding. I think when you’re a government employee, you are put into a different position, honestly.”

- Updated at 7:07 p.m.

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