A gay man whose attempt to obtain a same-sex marriage license was turned down by Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who gained widespread attention for her stance, is now running to unseat her —and tells PEOPLE he is committed to “bringing people together.”
David Ermold, 43, of Morehead, Kentucky, wants to take over the job from Davis, the controversial Rowan County clerk who in 2015 spent five nights in jail rather than grant licenses to same-same couples, a right that had been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in a groundbreaking ruling earlier that year.
Davis, who has been married four times and had two children out of wedlock, is an Apostolic Christian who cited religious reasons as her rationale for refusing to issue the documents.
Ermold says he first considered running for Davis’s office after his own battle with her, but decided to formally take the plunge after she recently traveled to Romania to campaign against same-sex marriage there.
“She should be over here taking care of us but instead she’s over there working for them,” Ermold tells PEOPLE. “I don’t think anything she’s doing is good for the office.”
Ermold wants to “restore leadership to that position” but admits to a broader agenda as well.
“It’s diversity, it’s inclusion, it’s equality,” he says. “We need to look at those issues and start bringing people back together.”
Ermold says he was expecting to file the paperwork with one of the other clerks on Wednesday, but by chance turned in his papers to Davis herself, a situation he describes as “very tense,” despite Davis acting “very nice.”
He says he didn’t feel revenge or retribution when he handed his candidacy papers directly to her: “I don’t feel that way toward her at all. I have compassion for people even when it’s sometimes unwarranted.”
Davis announced last month her bid for reelection to a second term for the clerk’s office, which in addition to issuing marriage licenses handles a number of other clerical duties including processing land, legal, voting, motor vehicle and tax records. The full-time position pays about $80,000 a year, Ermold says.
Ermold, an assistant English professor at the University of Pikeville who also serves as a director of Morehead Pride, a nonprofit supporting LGBTQ citizens, first tangled with Davis in July 2015 while attempting to get his marriage license.
Davis would not issue the document, but Ermold and his partner, David Moore, 41, later got the paperwork from one of her deputies and were married in September 2015, he says.
Though his notoriety has prompted hateful, anti-gay messages, he says he doesn’t worry about his safety and has no hesitation about running for office even during a time when politicians like Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore continue to oppose LGBTQ rights.
“If people don’t get into politics right now with different opinions, then these are the people we’re going to be stuck with for a long time,” he says.
That’s why he says fighting on behalf of LGBTQ people is a natural for him.
“When people are fed up, they step up,” he says. “We’re going to fight for our cause.”
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However, he says he’s running not just to support the LGBTQ community.
“The whole thing is about community, but it’s not just local community. It’s about Kentucky and about the whole country. Someone needs to step in and show them what it means to bring people together,” Ermold says.
“We need to be a campaign here that is bringing people together, ” he adds. “There are things that we all share … I don’t think everyone’s as divided as it seems.”