Kim Davis jailing splits American presidential candidates

Rowan County clerk Kim Davis is shown in this booking photo provided by the Carter County Detention Center in Grayson, Kentucky September 3, 2015.Reuters

Politicians in America are divided over the imprisonment of Christian Kim Davis for refusing to license gay marriages.

The conservative Christian presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has described the jailing of Davis as the "criminalisation of Christianity" in the US.

Kim Davis, Rowan county clerk in Kentucky, was jailed this week for dereliction of duty because she refused to issue same-sex marriage licences.

Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister before he entered the presidential race for the first time in 2008, said: "Having Kim Davis in federal custody removes all doubt of the criminalisation of Christianity in our country. We must defend religious liberty and never surrender to judicial tyranny."

The stand-off came after the Supreme Court voted in June to sanction same-sex marriage.

Huckabee, who has consistently spoken out against same-sex marriage, added: "Five unelected Supreme Court lawyers did not and cannot make law. They can only make rulings. The Supreme Court is not the Supreme branch and it's certainly not the Supreme Being.

"I am proud of Kim for standing strong for her beliefs. Who will be next? Pastors? Photographers? Caterers? Florists? This is a reckless, appalling, out-of-control decision that undermines the Constitution of the United States and our fundamental right to religious liberty."

Davis was deemed to be in contempt of court and was then taken into federal custody because of her refusal to license gay marriage on the grounds of her Christian beliefs. She has been criticised widely for taking the stance given her own background as three-times divorced and four-times married. However, she converted to Christianity after her third divorce and has since then lived by her Christian beliefs.

Others among the total of 17 Republican presidential hopefuls agreed that Davis should not have been punished.

"I think it's absurd to put someone in jail for exercising their religious liberty," said Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. "I think this is a real mistake."

However, some also criticised the county clerk for failing to uphold the law.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said: "This clerk, I understand her concerns. I believe in traditional marriage, but she's a public official."

Former business executive Carly Fiorina has made similar arguments, but indicated on Twitter that sending Davis to jail was too harsh a punishment.

Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, said: "There ought to be a way to figure this out. We shouldn't be pushing people out of the public square if they have deeply held views, nor should we discriminate against people, particularly, after this court ruling as it relates to sexual orientation."

Democrats are behind the Supreme Court ruling. Hillary Clinton, Democrat front-runner, said: "Marriage equality is the law of the land. Officials should be held to their duty to uphold the law – end of story."

Meanwhile, evangelical leader Franklin Graham wrote on his Facebook page: "I'm thankful and proud that Americans are standing up against the evil being forced on us. Our religious rights and freedoms are being trampled on...We need more Americans who are willing to take a stand for religious freedoms and biblical values in our communities. If we don't, we won't even recognise the America that our children and our grandchildren will be left with."

Additional reporting by Reuters.