David Ermold, one of the men denied a same-sex marriage license by Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis in 2015, hopes to challenge her for the clerk’s seat next year, he announced Wednesday.
Davis set off an international furor when she denied a marriage license to Ermold and his partner, David Moore, despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the right for same-sex couples to marry.
Davis, who said providing the license violated her religious beliefs, continued to withhold the license, even after a federal judge ordered her to issue it, and was jailed briefly. The issue was solved when one of her deputies, Brian Mason, agreed to issue licenses, and in 2016 the Kentucky General Assembly established an alternate license.
Mason is still issuing same-sex marriage licenses, he said Wednesday.
“I am running to restore the confidence of the people in our clerk’s office and because I believe that the leaders of our community should act with integrity and fairness, and they should put the needs of their constituents first,” said Ermold, 43, who teaches English at the University of Pikeville and directs Morehead Pride, a local gay rights organization. “My commitment to Rowan County is to restore professional leadership, fairness, and responsibility to the clerk’s office. I will build upon the successes of the past, and I will seek solutions for the challenges we may still face.”
Ermold is one of four Democrats seeking the nomination to challenge Davis, who changed her registration from Democrat to Republican in 2015. The others are James L. Jessee, Elwood Caudill and Nashia Fife, according to the Kentucky Office of the Secretary of State.
Davis has already said she will run for re-election. She has been County Clerk since 2014, although she worked for her mother, who was also clerk, before being elected to the position. Her son, Nathan Davis, also works in the clerk’s office.
Davis processed Ermold’s paperwork at the clerk’s office on Wednesday, where she shook hands with him and said “may the best candidate win,” according to The Associated Press.
Ermold said he would bring more professionalism to the clerk’s office, which includes not hiring family and friends, and do a better job helping to register voters and facilitate voting.
“The county clerk’s office has been in the hands of the same family for almost 35 years,” Ermold said. “I think there’s the potential they want to keep it in the family. But everyone should have a fair shot. It should not be something that’s handed down from mother to daughter and from daughter to son.”
Ermold and Moore married in October 2015 in Morehead. Ermold has two master’s degrees from Morehead State University, and has worked at Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College and Maysville Community College. Since 2015, he’s helped organize several gay pride events in Morehead.
Davis has become a darling of the religious right. For example, two months ago she traveled to Romania to urge that country to outlaw gay marriage.
Ermold said Davis’ position within the religious right is bringing more politics to the job.
Going to Romania, he said, “she’s just dragging our people through the mud over and over again,” he said. “Our people want to move on.”
Jackie Matthews is one of those people. She moved to Kentucky two years ago, then specifically moved to Rowan County so she could marry her wife there last year. She is excited to vote for Ermold and get Davis out of office and joined him at the lightly attended event at CoffeeTree Books in downtown Morehead.
“You have to serve all the people, not just the ones you agree with,” she said. “David represents everyone.”
Ermold said he was also discouraged by politicians who used the Rowan rift to further their candidacies in the presidential primary. He said he’s aware that Davis could get a lot of outside help in the campaign, but hopes Rowan voters will recognize the importance of restoring integrity to the office.
“Diversity, inclusion, none of these things are solely one-party issues,” he said. “These are issues that are important to all of us.”
Like much of Eastern Kentucky, Rowan County has turned from a Democratic county to a Republican one; President Donald Trump won with 58.5 percent of the vote in 2016.
Retired Morehead instructor Joe Sartor said the community is pretty divided over Davis, so he thinks Ermold has a shot. But Morehead resident Bill Roberts said he’s one of many supporters of Davis and her stance on gay marriage.
“She does a good job and should be re-elected,” he said. “I stand by her 10,000 percent.”