Welcome back to work Kim Davis, now just do your job

September 14, 2015
Kim Davis speaks to her supporters after walking out of jail in Grayson Kentucky

Kim Davis, flanked by Republic presidential candidate Mike Huckabee (L) and her attorney Mathew Staver (R) speaks to supporters after leaving jail in Grayson, Kentucky, September 8, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Tilley

OK, she’s out of jail — for now.

Kim Davis, the clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, who spent five nights in the slammer under a civil contempt order for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, was released because her deputies had begun issuing the licenses. Judge David L. Bunning has warned Davis not to interfere in the process from now on, but her lawyer says that she will not violate her conscience. Davis, as of now, has limited herself to praising God and her supporters. She is due back at work on Monday.

So, here’s the question: Is Davis’ resistance just spitting in the wind of history, like Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus’ defiance of the federal courts in 1957, when he called out the Arkansas National Guard to keep blacks out of Little Rock High School? Or does it signal a significant effort to shift the pendulum rightward in the culture wars?

David Jordan, a member of Chirst Fellowship in North Carolina, preaches in support of the prayer rally at the Carter County Detention Center for Rowan County clerk Kim Davis in Grayson

David Jordan, a member of Chirst Fellowship in North Carolina, preaches in support of the prayer rally at the Carter County Detention Center for Kim Davis in Grayson, Kentucky, September 5, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Tilley

History suggests that the fight is far from over. The United States is, as they say, a big country. Our factions don’t just lie down and roll over on the strength of a single U.S. Supreme Court decision. That is especially true for an issue like same-sex marriage, which cuts right down the middle between the nation’s fundamentally traditional values and its fundamentally ingrained resistance to the idea that individuals should be told what to do.

This split is the source of the culture wars that have occupied our public space for the past 50 years. We are in the middle of the latest round of the struggle, and we shouldn’t delude ourselves by thinking that anything about it has been laid to rest.

Because the swings of the pendulum have being going on for so long, the starting point of the story is arbitrary. But beginning in the late 1950s, we could see the direction in which things were moving. The power of the civil rights movement seemed — and was — irresistible. The power of the women’s movement was irresistible. The changes wrought by these architectonic shifts were so large that even the ordinary back and forth of politics could not undo them.

Still, there were reactions. For a while, it looked as if the counterculture of the late 1960s and early 1970s had given way to the counter-majorities, both silent and moral. We got President Ronald Reagan, House Speaker Newt Gingrich and President George H.W. Bush.

But that swing of the pendulum was checked before it went very far. The right overreached. Some of its clergy were disgraced — remember Tammy Faye Bakker and her eyelashes? — by financial and sexual scandals. The failure of the 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton elicited a general sigh of relief. The leftward movement resumed.

Independent counsel Kenneth Starr is sworn in before the House Judiciary Committee November 19. Star..

Independent counsel Kenneth Starr, whose statement began the impeachment hearings, is sworn in before the House Judiciary Committee November 19, 1998. REUTERS/Archive

In a dramatic piece of shorthand, Theodore B. Olson, the lawyer who represented George W. Bush before the Supreme Court in the Bush v. Gore recount case of 2000, joined David Boies, counsel for Vice President Al Gore in that same case, to challenge, in 2009, a California constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage

So here we are again. Some say that with the Supreme Court’s June ruling that denial of the right to same-sex marriage violates the 14th Amendment, the anti-right victory is complete. Those who welcomed that decision are now pressing for the legal corollaries, such as denying federal tax exemptions to noncompliant private organizations.

If this is what is going on, the questions about Davis’ quixotic protest are psychological, Machiavellian and just plain incredulous: What motivated her to become a martyr to a lost cause? Is she getting bad legal advice from manipulative right-wing groups pushing their own fund-raising and political agendas? Is her obduracy a reaction to her three failed marriages? How can you be serious about a woman whose husband proclaims, “Judge Bunning is a butt?”

But then there’s the opposing evidence, which gives rise to another question. A senior counsel for the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, viewing a photo of Davis in handcuffs, said, “This is what the other side wants. This is a biblical story — to go to jail for your faith. We don’t want to make her a martyr to the people who are like her, who want to paint themselves as victims.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the case against Davis, felt the same way: It wanted Bunning to fine Davis instead of jailing her. But he said a fine would not work because it would likely be paid by outside groups.

You can understand Bunning’s logic: Davis is represented by Liberty Counsel, a 501(c)(3) organization that, according to its most recent Form 990, received more than $4 million in contributions and grants last year.

Davis emerged from her ordeal with her hands held aloft by her lawyer and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who elbowed aside another Republican presidential candidate, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) to claim the honor. Other public officials, including several represented by Liberty Counsel, are also refusing to facilitate same-sex marriages. The media are making the country aware of these officials — and making them aware of each other. At least one state is seeking to accommodate their religious objections by getting out of the marriage-license business altogether.

If this is the situation, we have to ask a different question: Are we set for another cycle of victory, overreach and reaction, with the same cast of martyrs, zealots, opportunists and lawyers belonging to all those categories?

Maybe we are, and maybe this is healthy. Maybe it just means that every time a prevailing orthodoxy is perceived as pushing people around — even pushing public officials around, and even for the most attractive of reasons – Americans get uneasy and try to redistribute the power.

But it would be so nice to think that after watching this play what seems like a million times, we’d be able to write a different ending — to let it go, to make sure that the same-sex marriage licenses get issued while the dissenters can squirm away semi-gracefully, to avoid protest, counter-fund-raising, impassioned oppositional organizing and martyr making.

Our chances aren’t encouraging, but we should give it a try.

21 comments

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Kim Davis is a hero. She stood her ground, she maintained her convictions, and those convictions are what made the United States a great nation. Full stop. Today we see the US going off the rails, but Kim Davis had the guts to stick up for what is right, for what everyone knows is right, and I applaud her.

Posted by Cleveland2012 | Report as abusive

Kim has embarrassed Christianity in front of the world by being a zealot. Youth wants no part of bigoted judgmental religion. By partnering with politics she has cheapened religion.

Posted by scotty502 | Report as abusive

Kim Davis is a villain. She wanted to impose her religious beliefs on others. That is opposite of what makes this country a great nation. She had as much “guts” and “convictions” as a racist did in the 50s. Holding on to hateful attitudes and feeling that other people should have less rights than you do is ignorant. Don’t end up on the wrong side of history, learn to love like Jesus teaches you to.

Posted by Stilts | Report as abusive

Bravo Ms. Davis.Shame on you American Civil liberties Union. Even the supreme Court can make bad judgements and like bad laws these must be resisted and changed.
Same sex marraige laws is a slap to the face of God in whom America Trusts. Violating Davis’s right to live by her beliefs while allowing the anomaly of same sex marraige to be upheld flies in the face of human right and natural law.
Homosexuality and all sexual preferences are to be respected InCivlized Privacy which is the proper venuet for sexual acts between consenting humans. There are many ways by human relations can be legally protected without the need to encroach upon one of the most sacred tenants of humanity; the legally and religiously sanctioned union of marriage.
Only animals copulate in public and only humans flaunt their sexuality through such shameful exhibtion as Gay Parades and Same sex Marraiges. Both despicable displays of sense of inferiority and in your face shamelessness.
Yet jailing a woman for her religiuos beliefs is the price American society pays.
Truly as one of your famous authors said ” America has gone from barabarism to decadence without ever having passed through civilization.
You violate the laws of nature and persecute those who uphold the law of God at your own risk.

Posted by pharoah | Report as abusive

If a catholic was ordered to give a permit to abort a baby and they refused would that be wrong?
If a Muslim was asked to give a permit to make someone remove their headscarf would that be wrong?
In CA euthanasia will be okay soon. Would a clerk that believes suicide is wrong be wrong to issue a permit.
Let’s say a homosexual was ordered to put into jail another homosexual for sodomy and refused, should he be incarcerated????
The bible which many feel is a higher authority that the laws of the land must be obeyed. This is why many are killed in China, and during the crusades. This is just the beginning for these are new laws. As people of various religious beliefs are challenged more and more to not step up is to deny the higher truth.

Posted by irstaxhelp | Report as abusive

Yes, and if a County Clerk was a Quaker and against gun violence… you conservative geniuses would think she was cool to break the law and deny all conceal-carry permits in her county? Religious conviction is more important than law, right? She would be a hero?

Think hard.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Or is this the case of government getting too involved in peoples lives? Why does the Gov have to approve a marriage? Or a gun permit? States that have no such permit requirement are doing fine yet that is another discussion. You that enjoy personal attacks… You lose every time as you only show you are not rational…

Posted by irstaxhelp | Report as abusive

The good thing is, she is going to cost her county a lot of taxpayer money in legal defense…. for cases her county can’t win. How do we know she can’t win? Uh… because she’s already been to court. And lost.

Civil suit heaven. All gay plaintiffs into Rowan County.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

“That is especially true for an issue like same-sex marriage, which cuts right down the middle between the nation’s fundamentally traditional values and its fundamentally ingrained resistance to the idea that individuals should be told what to do.”

But LGBT marriage is exactly that – the individual’s right to equal treatment under the law. It is the religious right who want to curtail individual rights and control everyone – force them to all live under theocratic law.

Posted by Wizardling | Report as abusive

Amish Clerk denies all driver’s licenses on religious grounds. Says the bible calls for us to ride only camels and asses.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

She’s an elected official.
She makes $80,000 a year.
She’s just another politician trying to get attention for herself, that’s all you need to know.

Posted by Calvin2k | Report as abusive

Yes, keep supporting her. All money given to her is subject to civil judgment and payout for us plaintiffs. Send her more of your money. Please.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Religious beliefs are personal and about your own behavior, not about how you tell others to behave. Law is about the compromises we make to get along with each other and in the USA we have a democratic process for making and changing laws. We have an institution with due process of law and hits to society’s benefit when people obey the law.

While I think one is to be commended for having personal values which are different than the law and being strong enough to act on them, if she decides she cannot perform her duties at this government job because its against her religious beliefs then she should resign the position.

This is what a person with integrity would do Your religious beliefs are not about telling others how to behave but about how you behave. Kim Davis has chosen to behave as if she has a right not to do her job and still have the job. She is not only someone who lacks personal integrity but does not have strong enough faith in ner religion to accept the consequences of her beliefs.

It does not matter whether the issue is gay marriage or drawing pictures of Mohammad, we have laws and an institution of law with due process trumps religious beliefs. Religious and government are seperate.

Kim Davis has a right to speak her opinion, she can travel around and attempt to influence politics, but she has an obligation to obey the law and in this case she has a government job which she has used to deny other American citizens their legal rights.

Pretty much the nonwestern world sees western institutions as their enemy. Ms Davis has an opportunity to show what a great country the USA is by expressing her religious beliefs and showing she has true strength of her faith and personal character by resigning her job. At this point however she acts as if her personal benefits are more important to her than being a law abiding citizen of the US and a person of strong religious conviction.

In summary, religion is about what you belief is Right and Wrong, law is about what we comprise to live in society. If she concludes she cannot do her job because of her religious beliefs, if she were a person of integrity she would resign her job. Instead she views her religion as a tool for her personal benefit.

Posted by quacknduck | Report as abusive

Seventh Day Adventist principal of a public school blocks all meat and other “unhealthy” foods from his public school. He can not, with a clear conscience before god, allow kids to eat a turkey sandwich or a cookie in his presence.

Hero, right? Religious freedom! Yay conservatives!

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

If Ms. Davis truly has these deep-rooted religious convictions, then she has just sold her soul for $80,000. A truly devout person would have resigned.

Posted by justmeoverhere | Report as abusive

I disagree with Ms. Garment completely. A redistribution of power in the form of religious liberty is absolutely necessary. Kim is amazing! I love this good woman. I hope she continues the good fight. A person’s conscience needs to be regarded and respected here. She is not s hater, so people need to stop referring to her as one. She just wants to do what is right and is in accordance with her conscience. I have the utmost respect for her for this. Keep going Kim! We’re praying for you!

Posted by joelwash | Report as abusive

Anyone like Ms. Davis who attempts to use the government as a means to foist their religion and personal beliefs on others, is not a conservative. In fact, they are acting no differently than a liberal attempting to have the government foist *their* beliefs on others.

Posted by Randy549 | Report as abusive

This is what the republican party has come to. A loonie fringe of haters and paranoid people who can get married 4 times themselves…. but want everyone ELSE to be upright and follow their bible for them. Convictions. Haha. She was recently asked by a reporter to list the 7 deadly sins and she got 3 of them right. Real conviction means you learn how to read if you’re a clerk.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

The author points out:

“Davis is represented by Liberty Counsel, a 501(c)(3) organization that, according to its most recent Form 990, received more than $4 million in contributions and grants last year.”

So now we know. This is about money – the money Liberty Counsel will get in contributions for representing Ms. Davis, and making a national spectacle of the case. Their next Form 990 will be interesting.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive

She is right. Article 2 of the Constitution clearly states: “Understanding God’s divine nature is fundamental in setting laws.” Oh wait. That’s Article 2 of the Islamic Republic of Iran (written in 1979). My bad. The U.S. Constitution does not actually mention God or the Bible. Even once. Secular document to found a secular nation. Sorry Kim. I tried. You could always move to Iran, I guess.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Davis loves the attention she gets for being a hater. It’s going to be a rude awakening for a lot of self proclaimed “Christians” when judgment day roles around and they find out they were fighting “evil’s” battles.

Posted by Whipsplash | Report as abusive