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Love won: How a grassroots coalition helped bring same-sex marriage to Rowan County - The Trail Blazer: Life & Arts

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Love won: How a grassroots coalition helped bring same-sex marriage to Rowan County

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Posted: Friday, September 18, 2015 3:45 pm

A roaring crowd of equal rights advocates battled Kim Davis in the scorching summer heat every day at the Rowan County Courthouse.

The Rowan County Rights Coalition was born in late June, after Davis’ refusal to adhere to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. Originally organized on Facebook, they gathered outside her office every day — in the 80 to 90 degree heat — holding signs and chanting in protest.

Kinetta Crisp holds her sign Saturday, August 29, 2015, during a fairness rally in Morehead, Ky. Photo by Elizabeth HernandezFor The Independent Elizabeth Hernandez | Staff Photographer | jehernandez@moreheadstate.edu

Nashia Fife, coalition secretary, said the group is dedicated to social and political change and is a voice for all, regardless of their views.

“The wonderful thing [about the coalition] is the amount of diversity present in all of us,” said Maria Blevins, an MSU graduate assistant. “Our support system is made up of a spectrum of races, ages, sexual orientations, religions, ideologies and gender.”

When Dr. April Miller, an English professor at MSU, and Karen Roberts walked into the clerk’s office and were denied a license by Davis, the couple realized they needed support. “The RCRC members were … the very backbone of this push for equality,” said Miller.

Miller and Roberts were one of four couples to file suit against Davis this summer.

As litigation pressed on and Davis continued to defy court orders, the coalition emerged as a strong presence at every stage of the fight for equality. They would gather or march in protest nearly every day, write letters to government officials, accompany couples into and out of the courthouse, and support those seeking licenses as well as one another.

“All couples that have filed suit [against Davis] are active members of the RCRC,” said Mary Hargis, coalition spokeswoman. Hargis believes the other Kentucky county clerks refusing licenses — Casey Davis and Kay Schwartz — are continuing to do so because no one has filed suit against them.

“Suffice to say, if our couples and the RCRC had not forced the issue, there would still not be licenses being issued here either,” said Hargis.

While Davis continued to deny licenses and gain support, the coalition remained dedicated to their cause.

“As the situation escalated, more and more of Kim Davis’ supporters began driving in from out of state,” said Blevins. “This only encouraged us as a group. We wanted to represent Rowan County in this dark time of misrepresentation.”

Hargis, along with many coalition members, sacrificed time with their families and their jobs to illuminate the county in a positive way. “I was willing to do this to stand for what I believe to be equal rights for all citizens,” said Hargis.

Hargis even fought through injury to promote marriage equality.

During a march down Main Street on Aug. 29, she stepped on a curb and fell, dislocating and breaking her shoulder as well as breaking her wrist. Hargis and the coalition didn’t stop fighting.

On Sept. 4, Will Smith and James Yates became the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license in Rowan County after Davis was found in contempt of court and jailed. “It was an overwhelming feeling,” said Smith.

Hargis was in the clerk’s office when Smith and Yates received their license. Her arm in a sling, she told The Trail Blazer “this helps me heal.”

The Davids
David Moore and David Ermold received a marriage license after dating for 17 years. Sept. 4, 2015. Liz Hernandez

Although the battle between Davis and the coalition appears to be drawing to a close, the coalition is still holding strong to their dedication to social and political action. Fife said the group had to hit the ground running at first, but now that Davis is not interfering, the coalition can focus on other social issues in the community.

“We are coming together and moving forward,” said Fife.

The coalition has now grown to nearly 1,600 members.

There were days where the idea of going into the clerk’s office was terrifying, said Fife, but “having a large group of loud love warriors was reassuring and empowering.”

A "unity celebration" with guest speakers and live music is scheduled for Monday at the Rowan County Arts Center. According to Fife, the event has no sponsor. 

"It seems the community is trying to heal from all this divisiveness," she said.

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