PRESTONSBURG – Floyd County Clerk Chris Waugh’s first instinct was to resign office after hearing word he would be required by law to issue marriage license to gay couples in Floyd County wishing to wed.
But Waugh, who has served in his position for 16 years, has always been one to seek the counsel of others, and he did just that with this recent issue.
“I talked to a lot of people,” Waugh said. “I wanted to know what my options were with this newly passed law.”
The Supreme Court ruled last week that bans at the state level against same-sex marriage were unconstitutional. The ruling made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.
However, and although Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear made statements early on that the decision would be upheld in Kentucky, some county clerks have publicly said they would not issue the license, citing their religious beliefs as the reason.
Waugh, who is as well-known as a Christian as he is for being a county official, said the general feedback he received told him that he could be a target for a libel suit if he were to refuse a license to any couple seeking one in his office.
“I really thought about resigning,” said Waugh. “I talked with my wife about it. But I couldn’t see walking on the people who had put me in office and walking out on my staff. I was strongly opposed to the passage of the same-sex marriage ruling, but I will treat any person who comes in my office with respect and dignity and I will treat any gay person who comes in my office with respect and dignity.”
Waugh has made the same-sex marriage license available in his office and said as of Thursday that staff there has fielded about 15 phone calls from people asking for details about how to go about obtaining the license, though no one has actually visited his office to get one as of Thursday.
“I’m going to go by the letter of the law because I don’t know that I have a choice,” Waugh continued. “I do understand that most of the judges here in the county have said if approached to marry a gay couple have said they wouldn’t do it.”
Waugh said he had spoken with all the Floyd County judges with the exception of Floyd District Judge Eric Hall and Floyd District Judge Jimmy Marcum, and that they have told him they have no intentions of marrying a same-sex couple. This includes Floyd County Judge-Executive Ben Hale, said Waugh. As permitted by law, Hale is permitted to marry individuals as part of his formal duties as the county’s top official.
Though several county clerks have made public statements saying they will not permit the license, the nearest to actually do so as of Thursday was Letcher County.