A county clerk in Kentucky who was locked up for refusing to issue marriage licences to gay couples has been released from jail after five days behind bars.
US District Judge David Bunning lifted the contempt order against Kim Davis, saying he was satisfied her deputies were fulfilling their obligation to grant licences to same-sex couples in her absence.
The move was announced just before Davis received jailhouse visits from Republican presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz.
Dozens of her supporters had gathered on the jailhouse lawn in Grayson for what they called a rally for religious freedom.
Her husband, Joe Davis, went into the jail early in the afternoon.
Mr Huckabee, a former Baptist minister and Arkansas governor, was also ushered in shortly after the judge’s release order and was soon followed by Mr Cruz.
Davis was thrown in jail on Thursday for the boldest act of resistance by a public official yet to the US Supreme Court ruling in June that effectively legalised gay marriage across the nation.
Citing “God’s authority,” Davis, an Apostolic Christian, stopped issuing marriage licences in June after the Supreme Court said gay couples have a constitutional right to marry anywhere in the US.
Two gay couples and two heterosexual ones sued her. Mr Bunning ordered Davis to issue the licence and the Supreme Court upheld his ruling.
She still refused, however, and was held in contempt of court and hauled off to jail in handcuffs, igniting protests from members of the religious right.
They have rallied for days outside her office, at the jail, even outside the judge’s home.
Five of her six deputy clerks – all except her son Nathan Davis – agreed to issue licences to gay couples with Davis behind bars.
In lifting the contempt order, Bunning asked for updates on the five clerks’ compliance every two weeks.
On Monday, Davis’s lawyers took their case to a federal appeals court, asking that Davis be allowed to remove her name and title from marriage certificates issued in Rowan County so that she would not have to act against her conscience.
``I just want to give God the glory. His people have rallied and you are strong,'' Davis told the crowd after stepping outside, her arms raised like a victorious boxer, to the blaring Rocky III theme song Eye of the Tiger. She added: ``Keep on pressing.''
Her lawyer refused to say whether she would defy the courts again.
“Kim cannot and will not violate her conscience,” said Mat Staver, founder of the Liberty Counsel, the Christian law firm representing Davis. As for whether she will issue licences, Mr Staver said: “You’ll find out in the near future.”
She emerged next to Mr Huckabee and her husband.
“If somebody has to go to jail, I’m willing to go in her place. I believe that,” said Mr Huckabee.
“She has shown more courage than any politician I know. She not only said something, she was willing to put her life at risk.”