I realize that people may be tired of reading about the saga of Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Ky., clerk who is in jail because she ignored a federal court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But on Friday I received a blast email from Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), that is so littered with lies that it demands a reply.
Headlined “Help free Kim Davis from jail,” the email takes the form of a petition to Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, demanding that he spring her from the Carter County Detention Center.
Before I go any further, I should point out that Davis’ legal defense, such as it is, is being handled by the Liberty Counsel, a Religious Right legal group headed by Mat Staver that is based in Florida and sponsors a Center for Law & Policy at Liberty University. The FRC has nothing to do with her case. Perkins is popping off in the hopes that he can hog some of the limelight and perhaps shake a few bucks from his gullible supporters.
Perkins writes that Davis is being persecuted because the same-sex couple that sued Davis with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union “had many other options for obtaining a license and have, in fact, now gotten one.”
That’s a bald-faced lie. The truth is that unless they were willing to travel to another county, couples in Rowan County had no other option because Davis had refused to issue licenses to all couples (straight and gay) rather than allow same-sex couples to get them. Yes, same-sex couples can now get licenses in Rowan County – but that’s only because Davis is in jail. Junior clerks in her office are now issuing the licenses. They had been willing to do it before, but Davis ordered them not to.
Perkins goes on to imply that Davis is some type of prisoner of conscience who has been denied “her deeply-held Christian convictions.” Wrong again. Prior to her incarceration, Davis was free to attend church, read the Bible, sing hymns, pray, etc. No one interfered with her religious faith. She got into trouble because part of her job involved granting marriage licenses to couples who had the legal right to get them, and she refused.
We need to be clear about why Davis is in jail. It’s not because of her religious beliefs. And it’s not even because she refused to issue the licenses, really. She is in jail for contempt of court. U.S. District Judge David L. Bunning noted that same-sex couples have the legal right to marry under the recent Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges and that Davis’ office must, accordingly, issue the licenses.
Davis, an elected official who can’t be fired, publicly announced that she would not respect and abide by this court ruling. She said this in open court. That’s contempt of court; judges frown upon it. Anyone who engages in contempt of court must understand the consequences: fines or imprisonment.
Some have asked why Davis could not have been accommodated, since there are five other clerks in her office, and at least four of them were willing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The simple truth is, she did not want to be accommodated. Remember, Davis ordered her staff to not to issue the licenses. Accommodation was not her goal; right-wing martyrdom was.
In fact, Davis had to work very hard to end up in jail. She had numerous opportunities to avoid it. As recently as Thursday morning, Bunning (who, by the way, was appointed by President George W. Bush and has been described as a “devout Catholic”), offered her another chance to avoid punishment by letting her staff issue the licenses. Davis again refused. Bunning, who to my mind has displayed the patience of Job, finally had enough. He summoned federal marshals, and Davis was taken to a jail in a nearby county.
Perkins beseeches his followers to bombard Beshear’s office with petitions demanding Davis’ release. This is a cheap stunt so common among the Religious Right. The governor does not have the power to free Davis. He can’t overrule the decisions of a federal court. Sending him petitions is a waste of time, and Perkins knows it. (I can’t include a link to the petition because, in another move of FRC sleaze, they’ve set it up in such a way that if you click to learn more, you’re automatically listed as a signer.)
To be clear, there is one person who has the power to free Kim Davis: Kim Davis herself. All she has to do to walk out of jail is agree to abide by the law and allow members of her staff to issue marriage licenses to all couples who are legally qualified to marry, including same-sex couples.
One can’t help but wonder if this wasn’t all a set-up. We were told by the various and sundry Religious Right blusterers that members of the clergy would be imprisoned for refusing to officiate at same-sex weddings. It was nonsense, of course. The Obergefell decision was handed down in June, and since then we’ve had exactly zero pastors put behind bars for declining to officiate at a same-sex wedding.
So Staver and his gang found a clerk to convert into a martyr instead. I can almost hear her now pouring out her tale of woe at the next Values Voter Summit and making the rounds on Fox News. Can a book deal be far behind?
Some on the far right may consider Davis a hero, but anyone with a lick of sense knows better. She’s a lawbreaker who used her official position to deny an entire class of people their constitutional rights. Her case has nothing to do with religious freedom and has everything to do with religious imposition.
For the Religious Right, that is an inconvenient truth indeed – and it’s also one that no amount of lying from Perkins can mask.