The Kim Davis Circus

(Continuing the discussion from the prior post….)

Legally correct, perhaps, but “jailed for refusing to marry the gays” is like giving anti-gay-marriage Ky. county clerk Kim Davis the religious right martyrdom prize, sure to cause a surge in their fundraising. Apparently, there is no way just to remove Davis from office for failing to carry out her duties.

Walter Olson offers some pertinent observations, including that:

Among Republican White House candidates, Carly Fiorina seems to be among the few willing to draw appropriate public-private distinctions: “when you are a government employee, I think you take on a different role.” Also from a conservative perspective, Dan McLoughlin has a thoughtful what-goes-around-comes-around view on lawlessness and the pervasiveness of double standards.

Huckabee, of course, is a complete embarrassment.

On the other hand, it is also true that if this were a liberal clerk citing her Quaker faith to refuse to sign gun permits, conservatives would be up in arms (not literally, at least in that county) while at least some progressives would defend her right to ignore the law.

More. Kasich on Ky. clerk: ‘She has to comply.’ GOP presidential contender Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) said on Sunday that state marriage clerks should issue same-sex marriage licenses even if they morally oppose the practice. “She’s not running a church,” Kasich said.

There is now a real split between Fiorini, Kasich, Bush, Graham and (with greater equivocation) Trump and (via second-hand reports) even Carson, versus Davis-defenders Huckabee, Cruz, Walker, Jindal, Santorum and Paul.

Some progressive sites play up GOP support for Davis, but the real story is how many of the contenders have come out against her.

Furthermore. Sprung! It’s a good thing — yes, she should be removed from office. But making her a martyr plays into our opponents’ hands.

26 Comments for “The Kim Davis Circus”

  1. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    “Circus” is exactly the right word to describe the coming fight over “religious freedom” for public officials.

    Kim Davis, held up by the Liberty Counsel and conservative Christians to become the Rosa Parks of the Christian Martyr movement, is an odd duck. She purports to refuse licenses to same-sex couples on “God’s Authority”, which she believes supersedes the law. She is small-fry in every sense of the word, a party girl gone Apostolic, who follows a family tradition treating her office as a family sinecure, passing from mother to daughter, and in time from daughter to son. Her statements about Christian theology are laughable. She has made it clear that she believes that she was chosen by God for the role she is now playing. She claims the right to decide what laws can be obeyed and what laws cannot, based on her personal religious belief, but is unwilling to extend that privilege to her senior deputy clerk, who told Judge Bunning that she would comply with the court order and the law despite her personal religious opposition to same-sex marriage, calling her decision to obey the law “the hardest thing I’ve done in my life”. Davis is a near-perfect example of self-righteousness gone wrong.

    Judge David Bunning, held up by the Liberty Counsel and conservative Christians to stand in as the epitome of anti-Christian judicial tyranny, is a Christian social conservative who opposes same-sex marriage on religious grounds. Appointed by President Bush II, Judge Bunning is a very conservative judge who is personally opposed to same-sex marriage on religious grounds and believes that Obergefell was wrongly decided (according to his mother, who was interviewed for some reason by the Cincinnati Enquirer). Unlike Davis, however, Judge Bunning does not take it upon himself to pick and chose between laws on the basis of his personal religious belief, but instead has elected to fulfill his obligations as a lower court judge, and is using the tools available to him to enforce the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell.

    The irony is evident, and almost sweet. The conservative Christian base of the Republican Party, and the Republican presidential candidates who want their support, are casting a samll-minded Democrat as the Rosa Parks the conservative Christian civil rights movement, and a conservative Republican judge appointed by the man who leveraged fear and loathing of gays and lesbians into reelection in 2004, as the symbol of anti-Christian tyranny.

    If the Liberty Counsel and conservative Christians have their way, this is going to be the definitive case for so-called “religious freedom”, going all the way to the Supreme Court. Monty Python couldn’t dream this up.

    Grab the popcorn, and enjoy the show.

    Despite my belly laugh at the way this is working out, I wish that this wasn’t happening.

    I don’t think that there has been a poll yet, but I doubt that more than about 10% of the American people think that Kim Davis is in the right. The people who are going to get hurt by this are (1) the rational Christians (and despite the conservative Christian noise machine, there are rational Christians, even if they aren’t particularly visible), who will be tainted by implication yet again as being as unreasonable and intolerant as the conservative Christian right, and , (2) the as yet tiny contingent of pro-equality Republicans who are actually trying to wrest the party out of the control of conservative Christians and the Republican politicians who sing from the small hymnal, like Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum.

    I suppose that we needed to get to this point — the point where conservative Christians vilify good men like Justice Kennedy and Judge Bunning while holding up a nutcase like Kim Davis as the epitome of Christian sainthood — in order to visibly demonstrate the insanity of the hard-core, anti-gay Christian right and (one hopes, at least) bring the Republican Party to its senses. But it is a dark place to have come to, and that’s a fact.

    • posted by Lori Heine on

      Tom, your assessment is right on. As one of those rational Christians, I’m frustrated that Kim Davis has become the public face of my faith. Most of my work in the Church, for nearly twenty years now, has been following behind this sort of crap with a pooper-scooper and a dydee-wipe, trying to clean it up.

      This is a brand new, messy and highly toxic explosion of it. I can only groan, pick up my pooper-scooper, and keep on keeping on.

  2. posted by tom Jefferson 3rd on

    Kim Davis appears to be a self-serving bully. She wanted to ensure that she came out of a unnecessarily theatrical lawsuit with a network of folks willing to write her checks.

    • posted by Tom Scharbach on

      The Liberty Counsel has been reasonably open about wanting to find a “Rosa Parks” for the “religious freedom” movement, and has been transparently using Kim Davis to that end.

      She’s not an ideal client for this purpose (as more and more facts emerge, it is becoming increasingly clear that she doesn’t fit the description of a humble Christian just trying to live out her faith) but she’s what the Liberty Counsel has, and like all lawyers, they’ll do the best they can with her as they move this forward into a Supreme Court confrontation over “religious freedom”.

      Davis “ain’t much” (as a friend in Texas likes to say about people who don’t measure up), but she’s probably the best “Rosa Parks” candidate available, for a number of reasons: (1) she’s female, so she can more easily come across as victim than a male, (2) most of the other candidates (18 by my count) are from either Alabama or Mississippi, which makes the similarities between denying government services to gays and lesbians and denying government services to blacks too apparent for comfort, and (3) she doesn’t come across as angry and belligerent, which the four possibles from Texas do.

      I think that the Liberty Counsel is stuck with trying to make chicken shit into chicken salad using Davis, but lawyers do the best with what they have to work with, and among the two dozen public officials standing in the chapel door, so to speak, she’s probably the best shot available.

      The Liberty Counsel is going to lose this case. Legal precedent is too deeply established on this issue for them to win. It will take a while, but they will lose. The only question is how much damage they will do to the public image of Christians and to the Republican Party in the process.

  3. posted by Houndentenor on

    The problem with the Quaker analogy is that a Quaker wouldn’t take that job in the first place and would resign if he or she couldn’t do it for religious reasons. They wouldn’t stay and make a public spectacle. That’s why this is such a mess. I’ve had jobs where I did things I found morally and ethically objectionable. I did them and then when I got home updated my resume and started looking for a different job. That’s what most people would do. And I certainly wouldn’t have defied a court order! But then like most people I am reasonable and realize that sometimes one has to compromise.

  4. posted by Doug on

    It cannot be called ‘religious freedom’ when you intimidate and coerce the deputy clerks, as they have so stated, into not following the law. While Davis, an uneducated idiot, has stated the marriage licenses issued by the deputy clerks while she is in prison are not valid, the Rowan County attorney has stated that the licenses are indeed legal. Davis is charlatan trying to force her beliefs on others.

  5. posted by Jorge on

    Re: Olsen’s article:

    “A curious argument making the rounds posits it as somehow relevant that marriage law changed after Davis won elected office, supposedly upsetting her reliance on expectations of what duties she would be called on to perform. That’s not really a legal question, in the sense of casting any doubt on whether she is expected to follow the laws of Kentucky and the United States in current form if she wants to hold office. It’s more like a union shop steward’s argument — “you can’t change my job duties unless you bargain with me first.””

    It absolutely is like a shop steward’s argument, but remember, the shop steward’s argument is based on actual contractual provisions. This argument is based on the same laws that everyone already knows protect religious liberty.

    I know it’s an argument more designed for the political branches than the judicial branch, but remember, the political branches have a responsibility to uphold the First Amendment, too. A lot of laws are passed in the name of what the legislature thinks should be considered constitutional protections but which the courts stop short of. It is not right to suddenly say someone’s religion disqualifies them from a job, completely rework people’s livelihoods, at the whim of mob rule (Uhhhh, that’s a New York-specific argument.) The smaller laws are not more important than the need to give a religious accommodation.

    “…Dads get jailed for trying to see their kids more often than a court order permits. To me, among these disturbing outcomes…”

    Oh, no, that’s a good thing! There’s some psychos out there.

    I don’t think that there has been a poll yet, but I doubt that more than about 10% of the American people think that Kim Davis is in the right.

    You know the issue too well to see the blurred vision that Huckabee paints from afar. (Oh, so that’s what the forest for the trees expression means!)

  6. posted by Jorge on

    I’ve changed my mind on this one, though.

    The remedy Ms. Davis claims to be seeking is very narrow, after all. But first…

    It cannot be called ‘religious freedom’ when you intimidate and coerce the deputy clerks, as they have so stated, into not following the law.

    Ms. Davis’s argument is that it’s a violation of her religion for her signature to appear on a marriage license, no matter who issues it, and she alleges that it’s a requirement under state law for her signature to appear. So I don’t think your argument necessarily holds, Doug.

    So what do I read as I’m writing my letter to the editor today, but an online article saying that today’s marriage licenses are being issued without her signature. The judge ain’t complaining. Hey! VICTORY KD!

    *Celebrates madly for religious freedom.*

    Kim Davis’s lawyers: “These licenses are VOID.”


    Ya called it, everyone else.

    And this is why they advise when claiming the “it’s illegal” defense against insubordination, you should always try to obey the order to the extent it is legal.

    Look, if the lawsuit is about nothing so significant as a comma, and the judge allows her to break the comma law, I think she should break the comma law.

    • posted by Tom Scharbach on

      The remedy Ms. Davis claims to be seeking is very narrow, after all.

      Huh? Davis has stopped issuing marriage licenses in the service of her “religious freedom”. She refuses to issue any marriage licenses, and she refuses to delegate the authority to anyone else in her office to do so. No one can get a marriage license in Rowan County, Kentucky. That’s a “very narrow” remedy?

      • posted by Jorge on

        Well, correct me if I’m wrong, because it seems to me we have a situation where the goal posts have been moved, and I’m gonna pretend that didn’t happen. Didn’t she want the legislature to change the law so that marriage licenses don’t require her signature?

        Well, now they’re being issued without her signature. She should make that practice permanent.

        Now I’m reading that she wants to have marriage licenses issued by a committee of people. Too bad. She got the religious accommodation she’s entitled to, one that doesn’t create an undue burden on the state. It’s the state that gets to select which accommodation to give her.

        *Light bulb.* So all those people trying to pass “religious liberty laws” are basically trying to select a specific situation to give specific religious accommodations in. They’re mandating a certain interpretation of the Civil Rights Act. Perhaps as a pre-settlement before they get taken to court? What do you think of that argument, Tom?

        • posted by Doug on

          Davis did not want ‘reasonable accommodation’, she coerced and intimidated the deputy clerks not to issue licenses.

      • posted by Jorge on

        Excuse me, that’s “reasonable accommodation.”

      • posted by Tom Scharbach on

        Jorge, I’m having a bit of trouble understanding what you are saying, precisely, in this and earlier comments.

        I personally don’t think that a “reasonable accommodation” for public employees should include an opt-out from duties of the office. As far as I am concerned, we go far enough with “reasonable accommodation” if public employees are granted things like variances from dress codes (e.g. beards, head coverings, and so on) , time off for religious observances and holy days, and so on. It seems to me that a person who can’t do the job, though, should find other work.

        But, IF we were to permit employees to “opt-out” of the duties of the job for religious reasons, a “reasonable accommodation” would work like this (using marriage licensing as an example):

        If a couple shows up at a county clerk’s office to get married, and one or both of the couple have been divorced and are seeking to be remarried, an individual clerk and/or deputy clerk can refuse to grant them a license to marry on the grounds that to do so would substantially burden the clerk’s religious beliefs. The clerk with a religious objection would call in another clerk and hand the case over to that clerk, who would then grant the license to the couple. The couple would be granted the marriage license, but not by the clerk with religious objections to the marriage.

        That’s what “reasonable accommodation” looks like when it comes to marriage licensing.

        What would be true for a couple seeking to marry in that case would (of course) also be true for any other couple seeking a license to lawfully marry. A black man and white woman might not be served by a clerk with a religious objection to race-mixing, but would be issued a license by another clerk. A Muslim couple might not be served by a clerk with a religious objection to Sharia law (under which the couple would presumably live as a devout married couple), but would be issued a license by another clerk. The same for a Jew and a Christian seeking a license, or a Catholic seeking to marry a Protestant outside the Church, or any number of other cases in which a clerk might have a religious objection to issuing a particular marriage license. It would even be true for a same-sex couple seeking a license.

        A “reasonable accommodation” protects the religious beliefs of a particular employee, allowing the employee to “opt out” so to speak, but does not put a burden on the couple seeking to lawfully marry. The couple is served by the government, as transparently and inoffensively as possible.

        That’s not what is happening in Rowan County, Kentucky. In Rowan County, a couple seeking a marriage license is told that the County Clerk’s office will not issue a marriage license to them, and told to go to another county if they want to get a license. In fact, all Rowan County couples seeking to get a license are turned down and sent away. What is happening in Rowan County is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a “reasonable accommodation” to an individual. It is the cessation of an important government service to the 23,000 people who live in that county.

        As you note, Judge Bunning offered Kim Davis a “reasonable accommodation”, telling her that the contempt order would be “purged” (that is, lifted, and she would be released from jail) if she allowed other clerks in her office to issue marriage licenses.

        She flat refused, making it clear that she is not seeking a “reasonable accommodation” for herself, but instead seeking to stop the issuance of licenses for lawful same-sex marriages altogether in Rowan County, and that, in fact, she is willing to stop all license issuance for legal marriages, whether or not she holds a personal religious objection to them, in Rowan County if that is what it takes to stop same-sex marriage. That’s a whole different ballgame.

        “Reasonable accommodation” of an Rowan’s religious belief is one thing. Shutting down a government service entirely because she has a religious objection is quite another thing. If she won’t let other clerks in the office perform the service, then she needs to resign, and the sooner the better.

        The situation is not changed by the fact that Kentucky couples can obtain a marriage license in any county in the state, and that, by chance, adjoining counties are issuing marriage licenses. Griffin vs. County School Board of Prince Edward County, a case in which a Virginia school system closed all public schools in 1959 rather than integrate, was found to violate the 14th Amendment despite the fact that families could send their children to schools in another county or a private school. The reasoning underlying that case is “on all fours”, as we used to say in law school.

        I suspect that Davis’s moment in the sun as the “Christian Rosa Parks” will soon pass. When she turned down Judge Bunning’s offer of a “reasonable accommodation”, she pretty much pulled the rug right out from under the Liberty Counsel’s case.

        I suspect, at the point, the Liberty Counsel is using the case as a fund raising ploy. It hasn’t a chance in the world of succeeding.

        • posted by Jorge on

          Tom, has Ms. Davis claimed or has she not claimed that her religious objection to permitting her office to issuing marriage licenses is that she does not want her signature to appear on any marriage licenses issued to gay couples? Everything I am saying follows from this claim.

          I think it’s a valid claim and that the state must provide her with an accommodation.

          Now that marriage licenses are already being issued without her signature, it is obvious that the exact accommodation she is asking for is available to her.

          Therefore, she should permit her office to issue marriage licenses without her signature.

  7. posted by Doug on

    Mathew Staver, Davis lead attorney, stated this morning “You cannot obey something that is contrary to God’s law,”.

    What about Davis’ 3 divorces?

    • posted by Tom Scharbach on

      Under the typical conventions of Apostolic Christianity, Davis is off the hook, because she was baptized (and thus forgiven all prior sins) after her fourth marriage. As long as she doesn’t divorce and remarry, she’s good to go from now on out.

      Not so for her husband, Jim Davis (husband #2 and #4), though.

      If you’ve been following the soap opera angle of the story, Kim Davis was moved to conversion by the deathbed plea of her mother-in-law, Jim Davis’s mother. I assume that Jim Davis was baptize before he married Kim Davis the first time, so he does (I think, anyway, although I find it almost impossible to figure out the theology of these oddball small Christian denominations) not fall under the “all is forgiven” doctrine of baptism.

      A soap opera it is, too. Here’s an excerpt from the Wiki on Rowan:

      Davis is described as an “Apostolic Christian” who worships three times a week[41] at the Solid Rock Apostolic Church near Morehead. It is a congregation in the Apostolic Church, a Pentecostal Christian denomination.] She experienced a “religious awakening” in 2011, following her mother-in-law’s “dying wish” that she attend church. Davis has held Bible study for inmates of the Rowan County jail.

      Davis has been married four times to three different men. The first three marriages ended in divorce in 1994, 2006, and 2008. She is the mother of twins, who were born five months after her divorce from her first husband. Her third husband is the biological father of the twins, who were adopted by her second husband, Joe, who is also her fourth and current husband.

      Makes my head spin.

      None of this is legally relevant, though. She is in jail for contempt of court, for willful refusal to obey a lawful order the Federal District Court. As she is finding out, the penalty for refusing to obey a lawful court order can be significant.

      In my opinion, the Liberty Counsel are a bunch of charlatans, and she is paying the price as much for listening to them (rather than obtaining competent counsel) as she is for her religious beliefs.

      • posted by Doug on

        I did not realize that God’s Law came with an asterisk(*)

        • posted by Tom Scharbach on

          I don’t know about an asterisk(*), but I do think that conservative Christians use WhiteOut™ on Holy Writ more liberally than is good for them.

          • posted by Tom Jefferson 3rd on

            What, no off color, sophomoric jokes about a city named, more head?

      • posted by Jerrel towery on

        Interestingly, I read on Dan Savages blog, that she was a baptized southern Baptist while married to husband 1, durine al the soap opera. Having grown up in a southern Baptist family, I was unaware southern Baptists are not considered to be a Christian denomination. So she converted to Christianity away from the southern baptists? I am confused.

    • posted by Jorge on

      Central to the Christian concept of repentance for past wrongs is a renewed commitment to do right. Her history of sin really is a non-issue, Doug, and the fact that people are trying to make it an issue speaks to a certain intellectual dishonesty or a certain intellectual stupidity, you take your pick.

      Now, people might think they have something about her not judging other divorced couples. But I argue that as a woman, Ms. Davis might understand that women in domestic violence situations don’t really have a choice but to end their marriages; she may not have the same understanding for gays. I don’t get to pick her belief system for her.

      I did not realize that God’s Law came with an asterisk(*)

      How does God, and then mankind, pass on a Law that applies to every person in every situation in every culture in every generation?

      In the Old Testament, Moses and Job argue with God’s judgment. God says he will destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Moses asks if God will not relent if there are 50, 45… even 5 innocent people. In the New Testament, Jesus breaks the prohibition of working on the Sabbath in order to heal a person.

      Catholicism teaches that Jesus’s answer is, “I am the way.” Even above the laws that were given, (and will continue to be given) in the name of God in a particular place and time.

      Don’t ask me to follow the reasoning of those loopy literal Christians, though.

      • posted by Doug on

        How can Davis ‘repent’ when she is still living with the man she committed adultery with?

        • posted by Lori Heine on

          Because she’s heterosexual. And heterosexuality is magic!

  8. posted by Tom Jefferson III on

    If I were a county employee, I might just sue Davis on the grounds that her religious beliefs were conflicting with my religious beliefs………

    Seriously, insisting that all her public employees put aside their own religious beliefs, in order to follow hers, is just plain office bullying BS. Whatever notion I had that this lady might actually be interested in religious freedom, has been flushed down the toliet.

  9. posted by Jorge on

    There is now a real split between Fiorini, Kasich, Bush, Graham and (with greater equivocation) Trump and (via second-hand reports) even Carson, versus Davis-defenders Huckabee, Cruz, Walker, Jindal, Santorum and Paul.

    Oh, goodie. It’s not perfect, but it’s hard to find a more succinct list of the good guys vs. the bad guys in the Republican primary, complete with a mushy middle. Well, let me sit on which two to switch.

  10. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    Furthermore. Sprung! It’s a good thing — yes, she should be removed from office. But making her a martyr plays into our opponents’ hands.

    We’ll see, I guess, but I think you are wrong. Every step she, the Liberty Counsel and cohorts Cruz/Huckabee take make the so-called “religious freedom” movement look more and more unreasonable and demanding.

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