MOREHEAD, Kentucky (AP) — Local officials in the U.S. turned away two gay couples who sought marriage licenses on Thursday, defying a federal judge's order that said deeply held Christian beliefs don't excuse authorities from following the law.

The fight in Rowan County in Kentucky state began soon after the U.S. Supreme legalized gay marriage nationwide in June. County Clerk Kim Davis cited her religious beliefs and decided not to issue marriage licenses to any couple, gay or straight. Five couples sued and legal experts likened the case to the resistance some local officials in the South put up five decades ago after the Supreme Court legalized interracial marriage.

"I will say that people are cruel, they are cruel, these people are cruel," said David Ermold, who was denied a license to marry his partner of 17 years.

The clerk's office rejected the couples' bid for licenses just hours after U.S. District Judge David L. Bunning ordered her to comply with the Supreme Court's ruling.

Davis wasn't at her office Thursday, but deputy clerk Nathan Davis said the office was advised by its attorneys with a Christian law firm to continue refusing same-sex couples as it appeals.

James Yates and William Smith Jr., a couple for nearly a decade, were the second pair turned away Thursday. They also were turned away a month ago.

They held hands as they walked into the clerk's office, and gay rights activists shouted "Good luck!" from the street, holding signs reading "clerk not clergy" and "obey the law."

After the couple was denied, they joined the protesters.

"I still get frustrated sometimes, but then I take a deep breath and go on. I know it's going to get resolved. It's just a matter of when," Yates said.

Davis argued that issuing a same-sex marriage license that contains her signature is the same as her approving the marriage, which she said violates her Christian beliefs.

Judge Bunning rejected that argument in his ruling Wednesday, saying Davis has likely violated the U.S. Constitution's ban on the government establishing a religion by "openly adopting a policy that promotes her own religious convictions at the expenses of others."

Attorneys for the couples said they were considering asking the judge to hold Kim Davis in contempt, which could bring a hefty fine or the threat of jail time.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, has told Kim Davis to issue licenses or resign.

Laura Landenwich, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said that although couples could get marriage licenses elsewhere, they shouldn't be required to spend the extra time and money. Bunning argues that issuing a marriage license does not constitute speech.