NEW YORK -- Gay couples in Rowan County finally received marriage licenses on Friday, issued by the Kentucky courthouse that has become the focus of world attention over one woman’s defiance of the Supreme Court ruling on equal marriage.
Kim Davis, the elected clerk, was jailed on Thursday for contempt of a court order to issue the licenses. An Apolistic Christian, the 49-year-old has cited “God’s authority” for her steadfast refusal to carry out her duties. According to the judge, she will remain in prison until she relents, something her lawyer said on Friday she will not do.
“Here’s two things I know: She’s not going to resign and she’s not going to violate her conscience,” said attorney Mat Staver. “So however long that lasts, in terms of the consequences, she is prepared to accept them.”
Davis has received support from protester outside the courthouse, and on Thursday four Republican presidential candidates -- Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal -- spoke on her behalf. All four are flagging in the campaign; backing Davis is a gambit to corral the small subset of Republican voters that would welcome a return to the days of open discrimination.
Beyond the campaign, Davis has become the sharp end of a broad political pushback from Christian groups following the defeat of so-called “traditional marriage” in the Supreme Court in June.
Davis was jailed for refusing to fulfill her duties as a public official. However, far-right religious groups claim she shouldn't have to if it contradicts her faith, painting her incarceration as Christian persecution. Cue hyperbolic warnings of a “gay Gestapo” rounding up the Godly, condemned by the secular state for their beliefs.
One of the groups crying “persecution" is Liberty Council, a non-profit legal group created to instill a more Christian worldview into public policy. Staver, Davis’ lawyer, is chairman of Liberty Council, which is attached to Liberty University, an institution set up by the late religious businessman Jerry Falwell.
In a lawsuit filed on behalf of Davis against the governor of Kentucky, Liberty Council argued that the clerk could not act in “contradiction to the moral law of God, natural law, or her sincerely held religious beliefs and convictions.” In short, God’s law trumps man’s law, succinctly annunciated by Davis when citing “God’s authority” for breaking the Supreme Court judgment. This is no accident. Groups such as Liberty Council exist to bring secular law into line with Christian teachings.
The Christian lobby's ongoing campaign was severely derailed by the same-sex marriage ruling. Knowing a reversal is unlikely, Christian groups have tried to manufacture a groundswell of defiance with those that flout the law extolled as part of a persecuted minority. Davis has already been compared to civil rights activist Rosa Parks and the Jews of Germany.
Wittingly or not, the clerk has provided the Christian lobby with the emblem they desired -- a figure of “persecution” around which others may flock. Davis may draw comfort in jail from believing she’s doing God’s work. In reality, she’s become the puppet of a religious mob looking to spur a backlash against a law that enshrines equality over bigotry. And there's not much sanctity in that...