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Some In Rowan County, Ky., Surprised By Clerk Controversy


In Kentucky, County Clerk Kim Davis remains in jail after her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Her actions have galvanized her supporters and opponents across the country. But the college town that sits in the middle of embattled Rowan County has been left with questions about the ties that bind the school and the town. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Morehead, Ky. is a charming town in the foothills of the Appalachians. Its Main Street is anchored by coffee shop and a bookstore built on the site of an old theater. Scott Davison is a professor of philosophy at Morehead State University, one of the biggest employers in this town. He says all the fuss over at the courthouse - the protests, the clashes that have made it on TV - is not representative of this town.

SCOTT DAVISON: The courthouse is the exception. There's the flash point over there, and the people are lined up on each side. But most of those people that are involved in that controversy, they don't represent the day-to-day life.

PERALTA: But right off Main Street, I run into retiree Donna Lemley-Jordan. She pulls me aside and tells me that all of Morehead is not Kim Davis.

DONNA LEMLEY-JORDAN: You know, what I always heard is, if you were gay in Kentucky, Morehead's where you wanted to be, that it was a very accepting community. And when I came here, I found that to be true. And for one person and then a few supporters to put us on the map for this is really sad.

PERALTA: Kim Davis opposes same-sex marriage based on her interpretation of the Bible, and she has lots of supporters. But that doesn't tell the whole story. A couple of years ago, the city became one of the first in Kentucky to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance. And Morehead is a college town.

STEVE MIDDLETON: Now I think officially we're on campus past this stop sign.

PERALTA: That's Steve Middleton, a professor at the school. Middleton says that the campus has always been a huge part of this town, something to be proud of. Some of the buildings, for example, were designed by the Olmsted brothers' firm, the same ones that designed Atlanta's Piedmont Park. But Middleton says there has also always been a divide between the community and the college.

MIDDLETON: There's sort of, I think, a fear of the campus. This institution is breeding liberals, so to speak. And it's sort of been a war on higher education.

PERALTA: That trepidation was evident at a rally for Kim Davis on Saturday. Many of her supporters from Morehead drove 40 minutes to the Carter County Detention Center, where she is being held.


CROWD: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus...

PERALTA: Michelle Kinder made the trip from Morehead. She was holding a sign that said, we stand for God's words and Christian rights.

MICHELLE KINDER: It's sad day in America when you can be arrested for your Christian beliefs.

PERALTA: Kinder says Morehead State has a lot to do with that.

KINDER: They've already had their - I forget what they call it - diversity rally or what was and everything, so I just think that does have a lot to do with it in Morehead.

PERALTA: Davison, the philosophy professor, says he's hopeful about the situation. He says because this is a small town, everyone has to interact at one point or another. There is no other choice, he says, than to find common ground. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Morehead, Ky. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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