In the summer of 2015, shortly after the Supreme Court decision that made same-sex marriage legal throughout the country, David Ermold stood at the Rowan County courthouse in Kentucky with David Moore, his partner of 19 years. The two had met online in the 90s; shortly after, Ermold moved to Kentucky to be with Moore. The pair had long awaited the legalization of gay marriage and could now finally be recognized as husband and husband. But that dream was suddenly put on hold when county clerk Kim Davis refused to grant them their legal marriage license, citing “God’s authority.”
Last week, Ermold met Kim Davis again at her office. This time, she was registering Ermold to run against her in 2018 for the position of county clerk. In video footage of their meeting, which Ermold shared with Broadly, Davis is nervous and polite as she walks him through the necessary paperwork. “May the best candidate win,” she says to him, shaking his hand as their meeting comes to an end.
Watching their interaction, you’d have a hard time telling that just two years ago Davis went to jail for civil contempt after denying gay couples like Ermold and Moore the right to marry, or that she tearfully testified that marriage should only be between and a man and a woman, and that same-sex marriage is “not of God.” (While Davis was serving five days in jail, the two Davids were finally able to obtain their marriage license in their home county.)
Until Ermond’s campaign went slightly viral last week, many people didn’t realize that Davis hadn’t actually lost her job despite her national notoriety. Since 2015, still in her position as county clerk, she has championed anti-LGBT causes, even flying to Romania in hopes to persuade the country to ban same-sex marriage. For Ermold, this trip was one of the final straws: He was incensed, he says, to see her spreading her toxic message throughout the world. He was also frustrated because he felt she wasn’t paying attention to her home community, instead focused on spreading her divisive message overseas.
“This time, it's not Kim Davis who's going to be deciding on equality—it's going to be the people of Rowan County."
While Davis’s discrimination against Ermold and his husband have no doubt influenced Ermold’s decision to run, he emphasizes that his fight isn’t just against Davis, but rather the system that enables her and those who share her discriminatory views. "Back in 2015 when all of that was happening, there was not a single politician that stood by our side through all of that—none, zero,” he says. “If these people can be in office, these people that have such a divisive, dismissive attitude towards people, then I should have a shot, because my message is bringing people back together.”
Ermold feels this message is particularly important in the aftermath of Trump's election. During the presidential campaign, Ermold watched as LGBT, reproductive, and immigrant rights became hyper-partisan platforms. And now, not even a full year into Trump’s term in office, LGBT issues have come under direct and sustained attack: Earlier this year, the Trump administration withdrew guidelines that protected trans students under Title IX; this summer, Trump personally began a fight to ban trans individuals from serving in the military; and, in a Supreme Court case with far-reaching repercussions the Department of Justice has offered its support to a baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple.
If he’s elected next year, Ermold says his focus will be on unifying Rowan County. While he acknowledges that being county clerk is an administrative position at the end of the day, “There’s a broader, more ideological goal here,” he says. “And that’s to restore the integrity of that office by beginning at the local, grassroots level and replacing leadership with honorable people who work for citizens.”
Ermold is intensely proud of his future constituents and feels strongly that Kim Davis’s views don’t mesh with their values. “We have an absolutely fantastic community, but that’s not how it was displayed over the last two years.” he says. “This time, it's not Kim Davis who's going to be deciding on equality—it's going to be the people of Rowan County. I know that the people in our county believe in equality. It's just about getting them to come out to vote.”