Kim Davis is many things – an Apostolic Christian, the Rowan County, Ky., clerk and now, to some, a political prisoner.Just not to U.S. District Judge David L. Bunning. “In this country, we live in a society of laws. Our system of justice requires citizens – and significantly, elected officials – to follow the rules of the courts,” he told the clerk on Thursday. He then ordered Davis to jail for her refusal to issue marriage licenses.“God’s moral law conflicts with my job duties,” she responded. “You can’t be separated from something that’s in your heart and in your soul.”
Davis’ arrest is the latest twist in a complicated legal saga. The clerk, who is represented by attorneys from the Liberty Counsel, had ceased issuing licenses to all couples regardless of orientation in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June verdict in Obergefell v. Hodges.
The reason is probably familiar: She claimed that compliance with the ruling violated her religious freedom rights. But Davis isn’t an ordinary court clerk. She’s the county clerk, which means she has the authority to block each of her six deputy clerks from following the law – and she used it.
By the time she appeared before Bunning this week, she’d been sued by four local couples (gay and straight) via the ACLU of Kentucky and had filed a countersuit of her own against the state’s Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, for violating her rights. But after the Supreme Court refused to stay an order forcing her to issue licenses, Davis had exhausted her legal options.Failure did not deter her. She directly violated the order, and that, dear readers, is how she found herself in front of Bunning, arguing the finer points of God’s moral law.
Davis can’t argue that the judge, a conservative Catholic, failed to give her a fair hearing. In fact he gave her two: After ordering her to jail early Thursday afternoon, he called a second hearing at 3:30 to ask her if she’d agree to allow her six deputy clerks to issue the licenses without interference. Five of the six have agreed to do so. (The sixth, who is also Davis’ son, refused, but wasn’t held in contempt.)
Once again, Davis bucked the legal system.
Through her attorneys, she informed the judge that if released, she would again block her deputies from issuing licenses. She therefore remains in jail; as long as she is there, her deputies will issue licenses in her stead. This morning, same-sex couples finally married in Rowan County.
That’s justice, her opponents say – but her defenders claim she’s being persecuted for her beliefs.
Presidential candidates Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (R) swiftly condemned the arrest.
“Today, judicial lawlessness crossed into judicial tyranny. Today, for the first time ever, the government arrested a Christian woman for living according to her faith. This is wrong. This is not America,” Cruz announced in a statement. Huckabee compared Davis to Abraham Lincoln and, according to ThinkProgress, claimed the ruling “criminalized Christianity.”And pundits weren’t far behind. “We've reached a point where you can ignore laws if you’re on the left’s team and go to jail on the right. What day does the Civil War start?” Erick Erickson, yet another in the seemingly endless list of Fox News blowhards, fumed online.
But Davis’ actions are probably moves in a long game.
There’s evidence she planned her refusal before she even took office. According to BuzzFeed News, Rowan County Attorney Walter Blevins Jr., told the court earlier this summer that Davis informed him of her objection to marriage equality shortly after her election.
“Kim and I have conversations,” he said. “And she did tell me early on, before the [Obergefell] decision was made, that if it was to allow same-sex marriage that she could not do that in her moral judgment. She just could not do it.”
There’s speculation, too, that the Liberty Counsel is taking advantage of Davis. The firm does have a well-documented history of anti-gay legal activism, and Staver said in March that if the high court legalized marriage equality he “personally will advocate disobedience to it.”
It looks like he finally found his case.
Meanwhile, Davis’ fate is uncertain. Via Staver, she has requested a compromise: If Beshear allows her to remove her name from marriage licenses she’ll agree to stop blocking her deputies from doing their jobs. Since she’s county clerk, that process may require legislative action, and the governor has already announced that he doesn’t intend to call a special session to address her concerns, or those of other anti-gay clerks.
Whatever the outcome of her case, Davis only has herself to blame for her dilemma. She clearly understood that she’d likely have to confront marriage equality as county clerk, and yet ran for the office anyway. She is not a martyr. Her actions do not merit comparison to Rosa Parks, or indeed to any other prisoner of conscience.
Davis is an elected official. That’s why she can’t be fired. She deliberately sought to be elected to a government position that she knew could conflict with her personal beliefs. Now she expects the taxpayers of Rowan County to continue to pay her $80,000 a year while she discriminates against them.
Enough is enough. Marriage equality is the law – and a just law at that. It’s time for Kim Davis to do her job. Rowan County deserves nothing less.