Photo via David V. Moore/Facebook

One Kentucky couple’s hard-won fight for the right to marry in Rowan County

It's been a long, emotional battle.


Mary Emily O'Hara


Published Sep 4, 2015   Updated May 28, 2021, 12:54 am CDT

When marriage was effectively legalized nationwide for same-sex couples this June, everyone thought the matter had been settled. Boy, were we all wrong.

In some pockets of the country, conservative officials have spent the summer kicking and screaming about marriage equality, refusing to issue licenses to same-sex couples and protesting what most Americans now see as a basic civil right that LGBT people should have.

Thanks to this political backdrop, David V. Moore’s summer has been unlike anything he’s ever experienced before.

“We didn’t have anything planned up until this point. I didn’t want our wedding day to be planned on a court hearing, or whatever.”

The soft-spoken and mild-mannered Kentucky graphic designer from Morehead strolled down to the Rowan County courthouse in early July with his boyfriend of 17 years, David Ermold. After being denied a marriage license, the pair shot a video statement outside the courthouse and posted it to YouTube.

Two months, three courthouse visits, a couple of lawsuits, and a Supreme Court decision later, Moore and Ermold took another trip to the Rowan County courthouse on Friday—this time, it was more like a victory lap.

“It won’t be real to me until that piece of paper is in my hand and I can leave without getting harassed,” Moore told me over the phone just an hour before the couple headed to pick up their marriage license. After leaving work, he had only a short time to chat before going to meet Ermold, pick up their marriage paperwork at last, and then do a slew of interviews with some of the biggest media networks in the world. It would be a long day. But despite the feeling of a long battle finding closure at last, today isn’t Moore’s wedding day.

“It feels bizarre, kind of. People think you go in and you’re done and you’re married, but the only thing we’re doing today is getting the form,” said Moore. “We’re just taking it and getting it officiated and then bringing it back. We aren’t going to get it officiated right away. We didn’t have anything planned up until this point. I didn’t want our wedding day to be planned on a court hearing, or whatever.”

That’s right: All this ruckus—months of protests and lawsuits that finally led to the arrest and jailing of Rowan County clerk Kim Davis on Thursday—was about a single piece of paper that doesn’t even automatically mean you’re married. The license is just the first step, a step that Moore and Ermold have been blocked from taking over and again, to the point of maddening frustration.

So, as Moore prepared to finally break through, how did he feel? I asked him whether it bothered him that homophobic protestors are likely to be at the courthouse when he arrives later this afternoon. At this point, he said, it doesn’t matter anymore.

“I don’t want to be negative, but a lot of it’s ruined already. You never get a do-over for all those times we went in,” Moore said.

Videos of the couple’s last attempt at getting Davis to issue them that single piece of paper show Moore becoming uncharacteristically upset. Surrounded by a wall of reporters from national media, the normally calm and gentle Moore starts to cry as he asks the desk clerk: “Do you know what irreparable harm is? This is our memory of our marriage. For the rest of our lives. And if there is not another life after this one, what she [Kim Davis] has done is unconscionable, it’s unforgivable, it’s absolutely… absolutely ludicrous.”

The exchange was emotional in part because love and marriage is emotional. But also because Davis, by the time the couple returned from that encounter on Tuesday, was fully aware that she was under court order to comply with her duties, and that the Supreme Court had denied her attempts at appeal. Her act of refusal resulted in a charge of contempt of court, a crime and jail sentence she could have easily avoided by either complying or resigning.

Davis aside, Moore and Ermold are now emerging from the chaos to find themselves living very different lives than they were just this spring.

“We are actually a very quiet couple, we have our private lives,” Moore said. “We weren’t really advertising that we were a couple before. Like, our friends knew, but, for example, we told Dave’s landlord we were cousins. That’s what you have to do around here. You can’t say, ‘Oh, we’re a gay couple.'”

“We told Dave’s landlord we were cousins. That’s what you have to do around here. You can’t say, ‘Oh, we’re a gay couple.'”

Now, the pair is outed in a way that they’ll never turn back from. Moore wondered if that could create problems in the future—after all, Rowan County Kentucky is a nice place, but it’s not San Francisco.

“If anyone ever Googles us, they’ll see everything,” he said. “I don’t regret what we did, but we have to adjust to the new reality. It’s surreal. It’s like something you see in a movie.”

And while Moore is relieved to finally be able to start planning his wedding, the journey to this moment doesn’t always feel like a victory, he says. Moore cited the vitriolic public shaming of Davis over the past week as a difficult thing to watch, and said that Ermold cried when he saw her mugshot. The emotions that built up over the past couple of months of tension just came pouring out.

“No one really wanted her to go to jail. She chose that, she and her lawyers,” said Moore. “But this attacking her for being a woman, for having married four times and having multiple children… I understand people being angry—but up to a point. She’s an elected official, and we do parody those, but her private life is another thing. I don’t agree with or condone it. We don’t enjoy seeing it.”

It’d been a rough ride, but on Friday afternoon—at 4pm ET, to be exact—David Moore and David Ermold finally received some closure. We handed the couple access to our Twitter account, @DotPolitics, to go along with them.

With a signed marriage license, the couple can now finally begin to plan their actual wedding, which Moore said will probably take place at the local park. Through all of the summer’s high-profile activism and television interviews, the couple has made quite a few new friends. They’ve also had offers of free wedding photography, musicians, and even a honeymoon trip or two.

“It’s a statement, yes. But for us it’s just the first step in getting married,” said Moore. “We were hoping to have a small wedding and a reception. Now there’s so many new people we’ve met through all this, we’ll have a lot more people coming.”

Photo via David V. Moore/Facebook

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*First Published: Sep 4, 2015, 6:37 pm CDT