The news over the weekend that Romanians rejected an attempt to write LGBTQ discrimination into their constitution was all the sweeter because it means Romanians also rejected the meddling of Kim Davis.
Remember Kim Davis? The Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the U.S. Supreme Court’s nationwide marriage equality ruling in 2015? In fact, Davis declared that she and her staff would not issue licenses to any couples, gay or straight, apparently in the misguided belief this was a legally sound maneuver to avoid recognizing marriage equality.
Not only did Davis want to discriminate against same-sex couples, but she also withheld the fundamental right of marriage from all county residents. She was jailed for a few days for ignoring orders from the state’s governor and a federal judge to resume issuing marriage licenses. The flap ultimately was resolved when her office began issuing licenses that omitted her name from the documents.
But what does an elected official from an obscure county in Kentucky have to do with marriage equality in Romania?
Davis’ fight to use her religious beliefs to justify discrimination made her something of a cultural icon for the Religious Right. After she was released from jail, she appeared with then-presidential candidate Mike Huckabee as he was campaigning in Kentucky. She spoke at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit that fall. She even scored a controversial, face-to-face meeting with Pope Francis during his U.S. tour.
In 2017, she tried to take her anti-LGBTQ propaganda international: Davis joined representatives of the Religious Right legal group Liberty Counsel in Romania to campaign for a nationwide referendum to define marriage as only between one man and one woman in the nation’s constitution. (Liberty Counsel represents Davis in the lawsuits filed by couples denied marriage licenses and the ongoing appeals over whether those suits will cost Kentucky taxpayers a quarter-million dollars to resolve the legal fees.)
Romanians at the time were perplexed by the decision to use Davis as a messenger: “It is extremely worrying that a person who broke the law in the United States is being brought to Romania and presented as some sort of hero of Christianity,” Vlad Viski, the president of the LGBTQ advocacy group MozaiQ, told The New York Times.
And her efforts were for naught: Only 20 percent of Romanian voters cast a ballot in the weekend referendum, far short of the 30 percent threshold needed for the referendum to be binding. And that’s in spite of the government, which had largely backed the referendum, adding an additional day of voting. The Romanian Orthodox Church also campaigned in favor of the referendum, while human rights groups like Amnesty International and members of the European Parliament urged for its defeat.
While the failure of the referendum was a victory for LGBTQ rights in Romania, it doesn’t mean same-sex couples have reached full equality. Romania remains one of six European Union countries that does not allow same-sex marriage or civil unions, though recent court decisions may be changing that. And LGBTQ advocates feared the mere existence of the referendum would increase discrimination; Amnesty International has reported hate speech has been on the rise.
Meanwhile, back home in Kentucky, Davis herself will face a referendum of sorts next month: She’s up for re-election for the first time since she refused to allow her constituents to marry, and the race has been cast as a referendum on her decision. David Ermold, a gay man was denied a wedding license by Davis, ran against her but lost in the Democratic primary to Elwood Caudill Jr., the man who lost to Davis by only two dozen votes in 2014. Caudill, chief deputy in the county’s property valuation office, will face Davis again on Nov. 6.