Okay, there’s a lot of information flying around about Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk denying to issue marriage licenses since SCOTUS made same-sex marriage legal in every state. I’m going to try to summarize the information to date. I also have an opinion on why throwing her in jail for contempt of court is not a good idea.
Short summary: SCOTUS ruled in June same-sex marriage was legal in every state. Kim Davis, the circuit clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, stopped issuing marriage licenses to all couples in response, citing her sincerely held religious beliefs that same-sex marriage is against God’s will. Four couples, two straight and two gay, sued her after several attempts to get marriage licenses. A federal judge, David Bunning, found that Davis’s religious freedom was not being violated because she’s still able to attend church, pray openly, minister to people she’s ministered to for years, and otherwise continue practicing her Christianity. She appealed the decision to the 6th Circuit Court that oversees the federal court where the ruling came down. Bunning granted her a stay while that appeal was being considered. The 6th Circuit Court upheld Bunning’s ruling and ordered her to begin complying with the law by August 31, when Bunning’s stay expired. Davis filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, and was denied. Today, September 1st, the plaintiff couples returned to the circuit clerk’s office for their marriage licenses, only to be denied again.
The most common question I see is a variation on this theme: Why hasn’t she been fired? She’s not doing her job!
She can’t be fired. She’s an elected official. Just as a President of the U.S. has to be impeached, so does she. She also could be ousted by a recall election (think Gray Davis, the governor of California in office before Arnold Schwarzenegger took the spot). An impeachment wouldn’t begin until Kentucky lawmakers are back in session in January 2016, unless a costly special session is convened. These things take time, so in the meantime, Davis sits in the circuit clerk of Rowan County office as head honcho.
Now that she’s continued to defy court orders despite SCOTUS denying her appeal for a stay on Judge Bunning’s ruling that Davis’s religious freedoms are not being violated, what happens next?
The lawyers for the plaintiff’s in this case have filed a motion for Davis to be held in contempt of court for defying a federal ruling (Bunning’s, though she’s also in violation of SCOTUS’s Obergefell decision in June). They’ve requested financial penalties stiff enough to make Davis comply as opposed to holding Davis in the county jail.
I believe there are two reasons for this:
One, as satisfying as it would be to have a Kim Davis mugshot, her incarceration would make the religious right howl in indignation, giving Davis the martyrdom she’s being set up to shoulder. She is the face of all the anti-gay opposition to same-sex marriage in this country. They need their poster girl and she’s IT for the moment. I bet a little digging, and we would see she’s being financially backed by right-wing lobbyists who want to have leverage to pressure their lawmakers for legislation regarding more religious freedom protections. It wouldn’t surprise me to find she’s also getting help from organizations like the Family Research Council, (or especially the FRC, who could be trying to save face after the Josh Duggar debacle, if they weren’t already broke).
Two, as my wife-to-be said so succinctly, making Davis pay stiff penalties would cut into the salary she receives for doing a job she’s no longer performing, and if she bleats about it, it’s harder to sympathize with someone who will appear greedy to keep money paid by taxpayers she’s actively suppressing. Not to mention, a significant fine would feel like a balancing of the scales to those taxpayers paying toward her salary who disagree with her stance.
Another common thread I’ve seen is how can she propose to uphold the sanctity of marriage when she’s been divorced three times, and is on her 4th marriage?
Yes, there’s a lot of hypocrisy in that particular detail, given that one of the couples she’s denied repeatedly have been together for 17 years and she hasn’t seemed to hold onto a husband that long (I don’t honestly know the duration of her marriages, so while that’s what people might be thinking, it’s not fact that she’s been in shorter relationships than the two men in question). However, her personal life is not the issue here. Her personal beliefs may be the root cause of this shitshow, but protesters supporting the discriminated against couples would not be furthering the cause by slinging mud about Davis’s past marriages. Why? Because we’re demanding she refrain from judging the marriages she’s supposed to be giving licenses for, so judging her marriages would make us just as hypocritical.
What’s all this mean?
All I know is if it takes too much time to boot Davis from her elected position, other circuit clerks in defiance of the SCOTUS ruling (thinking Casey Davis, who is no relation to Kim Davis, but also resides in Kentucky) could begin doing the same, and then we’d have a Kim Davis situation in multiple states. We’ll probably see a rise in legislation anyway to protect religious freedoms much like what Indiana and Arkansas have passed this past spring, and it’ll be more two steps forward, one step back for LGBT protections. In the meantime, the more time it takes for Kim Davis to be impeached/recalled from her position, the longer the denied couples have to sit in limbo.
They could just go to another county, some of you might be thinking.
They could. But they shouldn’t have to. They live and pay taxes in Rowan County. They contribute to Rowan County’s economy by shopping and conducting business there. They have just as much right to a marriage license as heterosexual couples (who are also being caught up in this mess), so while going to another county would end with them legally married, that’s not the point. As strong as Kim Davis’s convictions are, so are the couples’ waiting for a license. They have the right, as ordered by the Supreme Court of the United States, to get married in every county, every state of the union.