Although the vast majority of American local officials are issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, there are a few stubborn bigots determined to hold out. In the state of Kentucky, 3 out of 120 county clerks are still refusing to comply, including the most notorious, Rowan County clerk Kim Davis.
After repeatedly losing her appeals and then defying a direct court order – claiming she answered only to “God’s authority” and not the courts or the Constitution – Davis was jailed for contempt by Judge David Bunning (a George W. Bush appointee, for the record). Her deputies, apparently more cognizant that they’re employed by the state of Kentucky and not by Yahweh, began issuing licenses in her absence.
I dislike the optics of jailing Davis, which will stoke the religious right’s persecution complex (they’re already wailing and gnashing their teeth over this supposed “criminalization of Christianity“). But I have to agree it was appropriate given the circumstances. Her brazen defiance of the law couldn’t be permitted to go unpunished. Since she’s an elected official, she can’t be fired, only impeached, which the conservative Kentucky legislature is unlikely to do. She’s also refused to resign, which would be the obvious step and would allow the position to be filled by someone who’s willing to do the job. Judge Bunning released her after several days when he was satisfied that her office was complying with the law, but given that her lawyers have announced she intends to put a stop to that, it’s very possible she’ll end up back in jail shortly.
But while Davis and her supporters play dress-up in their martyr costumes, we can point out that they’re in no position to be self-righteous. Her own marital history is nothing like the Christian ideal:
Kim Davis divorced three times, first in 1994, then 2006 and again in 2008. She gave birth to twins five months after divorcing her first husband. They were fathered by her third husband but adopted by her second. [She’s since remarried her second husband. —A.L.]
All this is in blatant violation of Jesus’ teachings forbidding divorce. In fact, by remarrying a former spouse, she’s breaking a biblical commandment which calls remarriage “an abomination before the Lord”. Davis’ defenders claim that her soap-opera personal life is irrelevant because she only converted to Christianity recently, but what they mean is that she used to be a Baptist – she “converted” from one denomination to another.Even if her divorcing-and-remarrying days are behind her, that doesn’t explain why she doesn’t view her current marriage as adulterous and therefore invalid. And it especially doesn’t explain why she isn’t denying marriage licenses to divorced people, or people in mixed-faith relationships, or any of the other categories the Bible expressly prohibits. Her high regard for “God’s authority” is inconsistent and selective.
However, it’s not just Christians who think Davis’ personal life should be off-limits to criticism. An atheist friend of mine said this on Facebook:
I strongly disagree with shaming Kim Davis because of her personal choices and history. She is refusing to do the job she was elected to do – and that is legally required of her. This is what we should focus on. Period.
I disagree with this. I think it’s highly relevant that Davis herself can’t or won’t live up to the rules she tried to foist on others. I believe privacy is valuable, but I respect the privacy of those who respect mine in turn. Just as I said about Josh Duggar, people who make it their business to shame or police others’ personal choices can hardly complain when they’re subjected to the same scrutiny. And if they freely break their own rules, that’s a data point we can use when we judge whether those rules are good or realistic.
Despite their public show of defiance, I think the Christian right will come to regret making such an obvious hypocrite as Davis the symbol of their demands. She’s too perfect an illustration of their implicit belief that some “sins” matter far more than others. Christianity is already struggling to shake the (accurate) perception that its moral scolds are obsessed with homosexuality to the exclusion of all else, and rather than weaken that narrative, this will only reinforce it.