GOP candidates blast 'absurd' jailing of Kentucky marriage clerk

The Kentucky clerk who has been jailed for refusing to issue licenses to same-sex couples is getting full-throated support from several Republican presidential candidates.

Sens. Rand PaulRand PaulWhat the 'Bernie Sanders wing of the GOP' can teach Congress GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election How low is the bar for presidential candidates, anyway? MORE (Ky.) and Ted CruzTed Cruz56 memorable moments from a wild presidential race Is Georgia turning blue? Five takeaways from money race MORE (Texas) blasted a judge's decision on Thursday to hold Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis in contempt of court. 

"I think it's absurd to put someone in jail for exercising their religious liberty," Paul said on CNN's "Wolf," citing his home state clerk's "heartfelt religious conviction."

Cruz, a vocal opponent of the Supreme Court's decision this summer to legalize same-sex marriage, also rebuked the judge.

"Today, judicial lawlessness crossed into judicial tyranny.

"Today, for the first time ever, the government arrested a Christian woman for living according to her faith. This is wrong. This is not America," Cruz said in a lengthy statement posted to his campaign website, next to a bright-red button for supporters to donate to his White House bid. 

“I stand with Kim Davis. Unequivocally," Cruz said. "I stand with every American that the Obama Administration is trying to force to chose between honoring his or her faith or complying with a lawless court opinion."

The clerk’s case has divided the GOP presidential field, with candidates such as Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Graham56 memorable moments from a wild presidential race High anxiety for GOP NYC mayor: Trump sounds like ‘a third-world dictator’ MORE (S.C.), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former businesswoman Carly Fiorina suggesting earlier this week that Davis, as a government employee, should issue the licenses. 

But Davis’s situation took a new turn on Thursday, when she was found in contempt of court and jailed for refusing a court order that she issue the licenses. Earlier in the week, the Supreme Court had refused to place the court order on hold.

"You know, if you want to convince people that same-sex marriage is something that's acceptable, I would say try to persuade people," Paul said on CNN, suggesting action through the federal government brought about the opposite result. 

"Her heartfelt religious conviction is that this isn't a kind of marriage she approves of," Paul continued. "My understanding is that she will file a contract, if two adults have a contract, she will file it, she just doesn't want to have her signature on it showing her approval."

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said on Thursday evening that Davis is “sworn to uphold the law,” but added that “there ought to be a big enough space for her to act on her conscience,” according to BuzzFeed News.

The White House weighed in on the case earlier Thursday afternoon, with Press Secretary Josh Earnest saying, "On principle ... the success of our democracy depends upon the rule of law, and there's no public official that is above the rule of law."

Five deputy clerks in the Kentucky county have told the judge in Davis's case that they will issue the licenses, though another has expressed reluctance, according to The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, the case has become a social issue flashpoint for Cruz, Paul and other candidates vying for the support of evangelical voters, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has also backed Davis.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Rubio56 memorable moments from a wild presidential race New York Times endorses Rubio's rival Rubio: GOP Congress could go in different direction than Trump MORE (Fla.) has similarly come out in defense of Davis, seeking "a balance between government's responsibility to abide by the laws of our republic and allowing people to stand by their religious convictions."

Huckabee, the first to offer a strong defense of Davis this week, blasted putting her in custody in a series of tweets on Thursday afternoon, calling it an assault on religious liberty.



Other candidates, such as businessman Donald TrumpDonald TrumpClinton, Michelle Obama to hold first joint rally Thursday Donald Trump and the end of history — as we knew it America’s Eastern European mess MORE, the current GOP front-runner, have either remained silent on the issue or declined to weigh in.

"I don't know enough about it to comment on it," Trump said during a wide-ranging press conference on Thursday. "Was she jailed? I really don't know much about it."

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonClinton, Michelle Obama to hold first joint rally Thursday WATCH LIVE: Clinton campaigns in battleground North Carolina Poll: 4 in 10 say neither Trump nor Clinton is funny MORE's campaign also issued a tweet Thursday on Davis being placed in custody, saying, "Marriage equality is the law of the land. Officials should be held to their duty to uphold the law—end of story."

- Updated at 8:57 p.m.