It seems as if everyone – the media, the public, even presidential candidates – has been focused on Kim Davis, the Clerk for Rowan County, Kentucky. It’s not that she isn’t worth our attention because she is. She’s taken up a banner of sorts, by refusing marriage licenses for anyone because she won’t, or can’t, issue them to gay couples. Her response, to anyone who asks, is that she’s working under the authority of God and, therefore, would be committing an act so heinous that it would send her straight to Hell. Mrs. Davis proudly and defiantly went off to jail to demonstrate just how sincere she was in her beliefs.
That’s all well and good. No one should be expected to betray whatever they wholeheartedly believe in. The hitch in her stance, however, was that she was offered the option of resigning from her position in order to avoid being locked up. As of yesterday, she’s out of her cell, with Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz joining her on the courthouse steps in what looked like something resembling a revival meeting, mixed with some political photo-ops.
I don’t doubt that Ms. Davis is born again, that she experienced a moment when the Spirit moved her and she has dedicated her life to whatever God she believes in. Doubt about how this has been handled crept in when I took a long hard look at her attorney. Mrs. Davis is getting advice, not only from scripture, but from the founder of the Liberty Counsel, Matt Staver. The Liberty Counsel is a group, not unlike the members of the Westboro Baptist Church, whose sole mission is to deny the rights of the LGBT community. They swoop in whenever and wherever there’s the slightest sign that the LGBT community might be gaining some legal inroads with regard to their rights as American citizens. Then they go to work, filing lawsuits and spreading their anti-gay rhetoric, under the guise of coming to the defense of “Christian religious liberty, the sanctity of human life, and the traditional family.”
They don’t charge their clients, like Mrs. Davis, instead operating on donations from like-minded individuals. The group’s record on their court cases is less than impressive, with some courts simply refusing to hear their arguments, probably because their arguments are rarely based on the law. One really baffling case was against a public library that awarded a “Hogwarts’ Certificate of Accomplishment” to young people who had read the Harry Potter books. The Counsel argued that “witchcraft is a religion, and the certificate of witchcraft endorsed a particular religion in violation of the First Amendment establishment clause.” The issues they’ve fought against and the way they’ve taken up their cause is so disturbing that the Southern Poverty Law Center has placed them on their list of twelve hate groups that crusade against gays. None of this deters them, however. They simply pack up and move to a different state, a different jurisdiction and try, try again. Staver and his cohorts are, more than likely, going to come up the losers in Kentucky, too.
The bigger problem with their tactics and their twisted advice is what it ultimately means to their clients. You really have to wonder just what sort of lawyer advises their client to ignore a court order and choose jail, instead. It also makes you wonder is people like Mrs. Davis aren’t being used, more than just a bit, for something the ramifications of which she may not fully understand.
The last comment from Attorney Staver, on those courthouse steps, was that Mrs. Davis would not betray her conscience. He’s also stated that the marriage licenses which were issued in her absence are null and void, not worth the paper they were written on because her title still appeared on them She’s due to return to work on Monday. When she was released from her cell, the judge wrote that she was not to interfere with her deputies as they issued the licenses. All of this sounds like a position of the rock and the hard place for Mrs. Davis. Her deputies have already said that they only refused licenses out of fear for their jobs. Davis isn’t about to budge on her position. There is another alternative which would allow her to keep her job. Her attorney could make a request under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allows for reasonable accommodations be made for religious beliefs. Such accommodations have been made for others who found that their jobs and their beliefs were at odds. In Mrs. Davis’ case, it would be a matter of removing her name and title from the licenses. It’s odd that her attorney hasn’t proposed this, unless Davis is simply determined that no licenses will be issued as long as she holds office.
The question, then, is what happens on Monday, when she resumes her duties – well, some of them. If she continues to refuse to issue the licenses and bars her deputies from doing it, then she’s going right back to jail. That’s where she’ll stay until who knows when. Civil contempt is meant to be coercive. It’s purpose is to give someone a little incentive to rethink their position and set things right. Will her attorney advise her to do just that? If that’s the case, she’ll be sitting there for a very long time, at least until her term of office expires. Witnesses who have refused to give testimony and reporters who wouldn’t give up their sources have served for months. A man who wouldn’t tell the divorce court where he’d hidden millions from his wife sat in a cell for fourteen years, until the court figured out it wasn’t working. And where will her attorney be? It’s doubtful he’ll be staying in Kentucky, waiting for her release. He’ll have moved on, looking for someone else to parade in front of the cameras, without even checking his rear-view mirror. While I might believe in the depth of Mrs. Davis’ convictions, there’s room for doubt as to the motives of her adviser.