MOREHEAD, Ky. (AP) — David Ermold will return to the Rowan County courthouse Wednesday, nearly two years after Clerk Kim Davis refused to give him a marriage license because he was gay.
Only this time, he does not want a license. He wants Davis’ job.
Ermold filed to run for county clerk on Wednesday, hoping to challenge the woman who two years ago told him “God’s authority” prohibited her from complying with a U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively legalized gay marriage nationwide. Ermold and others sued her, and Davis would spend five days in jail for disobeying a federal judge’s order. She emerged to a rapturous rally on the jailhouse lawn, arm-in-arm with a Republican presidential candidate as a newly crowned martyr for conservatives.
In the two years since then, things have quieted down in this Appalachian town previously known for a college basketball team at Morehead State University that occasionally qualifies for the NCAA tournament. But last month, Davis announced she would run for re-election and face voters for the first time since refusing to issue marriage licenses. Three other people have also filed to run against her, including Elwood Caudill, who lost to Davis by just 23 votes in the 2014 Democratic primary.
But Caudill, like many people in Morehead, doesn’t want to talk about Davis and gay marriage. Ermold does.
“I think we need to deal with the circumstances and the consequences of what happened,” Ermold said. “I don’t think the other candidates are looking at a larger message. I have an obligation here, really, to do this and to set things right.”
Davis, through her attorney, declined to comment for this story. Davis has been in the clerk’s office for nearly three decades, most of that time working for her mother until she retired. Davis was elected in 2014 as a Democrat. But after same-sex marriage became legal, the state’s then-Democratic governor refused to issue an executive order to remove the names of clerks from marriage licenses. Davis said she felt betrayed by her party and switched her registration to Republican.
Davis’ new political party could be a problem in Rowan County. While Republican Donald Trump overwhelmingly won the county during the 2016 presidential election, nearly all of the local elected officials are Democrats and always have been.
“The clerk’s position is more than a single issue position and that’s all David has is one issue,” Davis’ attorney Mat Staver said. “He has no idea how to run a clerk’s office. Much of what the clerk does has nothing to do with wedding licenses. It’s a broad service to the public.”
Ermold grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and came to Kentucky 19 years ago to be with his boyfriend, now husband, David Moore. He has two master’s degrees, one in English and the other in communication, and teaches English at the University of Pikeville. He says he is more than qualified to run the office, which keeps track of the county’s records including real estate transactions and business licenses.
And he said his campaign won’t focus solely on the LGBT rights. He said he is tired of the “divide and conquer” style of politics that has come to dominate most elections, where candidates purposefully take stances to energize some voters while angering everyone else.
“People … are back home bickering and fighting with each other and fighting on social media,” he said. “This campaign we are putting together is about unity and bringing people together and restoring fairness.”