The cause too bonkers for even Donald Trump to support
Kim Davis generated headlines by refusing to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples
Kim Davis, with Republic presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and attorney Mathew Staver, in Grayson, Kentucky, this week. Photograph: Chris Tilley/Reuters
Woolly media liberals who support marriage equality should all agree to ignore the story of Kim Davis. Let us sign a pact to write no columns on the county clerk from Kentucky who generated headlines by refusing to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples. Well, maybe just the one. But, after this, we will promise to remain silent.
It was inevitable from the start that Davis’s supporters would present her as a martyr. Sure enough, the American right has, for the last week, been busily evoking the names of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. Mike Huckabee, one of the desperate Republican presidential hopefuls trying to wrest attention from Donald Trump’s crackpot insurgency, may have gone further than that in his statements of support. “Having Kim Davis in federal custody removes all doubt of the criminalisation of Christianity in our country,” he said. Elsewhere Mike compared her to Abraham Lincoln when the president “disregarded the Dred Scott 1857 decision that said black people weren’t fully human”. It has recently been announced that a woman will appear on the redesigned $10 bill. If Davis really is a heroine of Lincolnian proportions then she must be considered a candidate.
Here’s what happened. In June of this year, the supreme court ruled that the right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples under the US constitution. Davis was among several county officials throughout three states – all in the south – who refused to issue licences to couples of the same gender. After a great deal of wrangling in various courts, Davis was eventually brought before a court on a charge of contempt. Judge David Bunning had little option but to send her to jail and turn the small-town pantomime into an absurd cause celebre. It hardly needs to be said that Davis, a convert to the Apostolic Church, felt that she was acting on behalf of the Lord God. “I never imagined a day like this would come, where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage,” she said.
Despite Davis being a declared Democrat, the various bearded ladies, snake people and human skeletons of the travelling Republican Freak Show were quickly all over her like flies on (oh, let’s be nice here) warm honey. Ted Cruz described the incarceration as “judicial tyranny”. Rand Paul, from the libertarian wing, said it was “absurd to put someone in jail for exercising their religious liberty”. Governor Bobby Jindal offered support.
In contrast, Chris Christie, Lindsey Graham and Donald Trump took the radical view that Davis was obligated to carry out the duties for which she was paid. Praise where praise is due. Trump sounded uncharacteristically sane and reasonable when asked about the case. “We are a country of laws, and we have to do what the supreme court [decides], whether you like the decision or not,” he said.
Allow that to sink in. Davis’s cause is too bonkers for even Trump to get behind.
Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King were indeed arrested for acts of moral defiance, but, as Van Jones pointed out recently on the CNN website, they were defying local laws that often contravened the protections of US supreme court decisions. A better comparison would be with the arch-segregationist governor George Wallace, who, when governor of Alabama, blocked the front door of the University of Alabama in an attempt to stop the admittance of two black students. “Just like Kim Davis, Wallace was trying to use his local powers to defy the courts,” Jones writes.
There is another distinction between Davis’s stance and those of Parks, King and Lincoln. It is true the last three were Christians. It is equally true each would have believed that scripture supported their campaigns. But those causes were not driven solely by the doctrines of religion. Jews, Muslims and atheists all marched in support of civil rights. No rational secular humanist could have opposed the emancipation of the slaves.
Davis has made it clear this case is about her beliefs as a Christian. Her only argument against the rightness of same-sex marriage is that it defies biblical teaching. Who cares? Obviously, out of politeness, we should all strive to avoid offending anyone’s religious sensibilities. Ensure dietary restrictions are catered for. Avoid language that needlessly aggravates the faithful. But religious belief should be no more of a defence against law enforcement than any other personal zealotry. Your Catholicism or your Islamic faith should, in such a case, be of as much relevance as your enthusiasm for Star Wars or your passion for West Bromwich Albion.
Now let’s speak no more about Kim Davis.