ATLANTA — The Kentucky clerk who is defying a federal court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples is putting Republican presidential contenders on the spot as they try to mollify social conservatives without alienating the majority of Americans who support gay marriage.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee spoke Wednesday to the clerk, Kim Davis, offering her "prayers and support," and said in a statement that she is on sound legal footing despite the Supreme Court's June ruling to legalize same-sex unions nationwide and a subsequent federal court order requiring her to comply.
"She is showing more courage and humility than just about any federal office holder in Washington," said Huckabee.
He praised her for not "bowing to the false God of judicial supremacy."
The Supreme Court declined Monday to block a federal district judge's order requiring Davis's office to issue licenses, a development that exhausts her legal options.
Among the 2016 GOP rivals, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who talks often of "religious liberty" as he campaigns, signalled approval of what Davis is doing but did not explicitly call for her or her colleagues to defy the courts.
He believes "every person should be able to follow their conscience, and clerks who cannot in good conscience participate in same-sex marriage should not be forced to violate their beliefs," campaign spokeswoman Shannon Bates said.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul offered Davis a mixed endorsement during a recent campaign swing through New Hampshire. "People who do stand up and are making a stand, to say that they believe in something, is an important part of the American way," Paul told Boston Herald radio. But Davis's home-state senator later issued a statement echoing his long-held position that the debate over marriage law could be settled if states would "get out of the business of giving out licenses," while allowing churches to issue marriage contracts as they see fit.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, both in interviews with radio host Hugh Hewitt, stood out in the Republican pack by saying Davis should follow the law.
"The rule of law is the rule of law," Graham said.
Fiorina said, "Given the fact that the government is paying her salary, I think that is not appropriate."
Rowan County taxpayers pay Davis $80,000 per year as an elected clerk. She has six deputy clerks in her office, as well.
Other GOP contenders have avoided the controversy so far.
For Huckabee, the issue is another opportunity to stand out among rivals who are courting social conservatives. The ordained Baptist minister rode the support of evangelicals to eight caucus and primary victories in the 2008 presidential campaign, but has not demonstrated the same momentum in the early manoeuvring for 2016.
Associated Press reporter Steve Peoples contributed to this report from Washington.
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Bill Barrow, The Associated Press