Kim Davis is in jail for contempt of court for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but make no mistake: this uncivil civil servant isn’t a religious freedom fighter. She’s a homophobe, pure and simple.
“The court cannot condone the willful disobedience of its lawfully issued order,” said Judge David L. Bunning of Federal District Court. “If you give people the opportunity to choose which orders they follow, that’s what potentially causes problems.” Davis, county clerk for Rowan County, Kentucky, will be released when she complies with the law and issues marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Now Davis will play the martyr, tossed behind bars for putting the laws of God above those of mere mortals. Even after the Supreme Court ruled against her, Davis spent the week telling gay men and lesbians that in rejecting their request for a marriage license, she was acting “under God’s authority.”
Can God sue for defamation of character?
Wrong and strong, Davis’s actions are reminiscent of Alabama Governor George Wallace’s infamous “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door.” In 1963, Wallace, who had declared “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” literally stood in a doorway at the University of Alabama to block two black students from entering the school, despite federal laws. Of course, this was nothing more than a political show for the cameras and segregationists. After jabbering on about states’ rights — as shallow an argument as it had been a century earlier during the Civil War — Wallace eventually stepped away, a small man pushed aside by the resolve of a nation struggling to be just.
Defying the rule of law didn’t work for Wallace, and it won’t work for Davis. (Davis had been trying to skirt the law by denying all marriage licenses. “I’m not discriminating, because I’m not issuing licenses to anybody,” she said.) Still, even the shameless Wallace didn’t try to hide his bigotry behind the Bible.
“To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of a marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience,” Davis wrote in a statement issued by the conservative Liberty Counsel, which is representing her in federal court. “It is not a light issue for me. It is a heaven or hell decision.”
As Mahalia Jackson once sang, “Everybody talkin’ ’bout heaven ain’t going there.”
Davis is just the latest in a long, infernal line of fanatics to contort their so-called faith into an excuse for hatred and division. Religion has been misused to justify the Crusades, slavery, apartheid, the Holocaust and — more recently — terrorism and extremism around the world. If faith is a comfort to some, for people like Davis it’s a cudgel to scold and threaten anyone with whom they disagree.
In her statement, Davis, an Apostolic Christian said, “I intend to continue to serve the people of Rowan County, but I cannot violate my conscience.” Except, of course, she isn’t serving the people of Rowan County, at least not the ones who want to get a marriage license. Just because Davis has been married four times, it doesn’t make her the moral arbiter on who should be allowed to walk down the aisle. Davis should also be reminded that God does not pay her $80,000 salary; that’s the burden of taxpayers, some of whom want the licenses Davis is denying them.
Whatever her agenda, Davis has made a mockery of her position and religion. History has roundly denounced Wallace’s intolerance and intransigence at the door more than 50 years ago; it will be just as unforgiving of the uncivil civil servant of Rowan County, Kentucky.
Renée Graham writes regularly for the Globe. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.