Kim Davis has yet to satisfactorily answer what kind of good does withholding a marriage license and the dream of a life together for a same-sex couple produce?
Rowan County, Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis has become the face of resistance to the recent Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing marriage for same-sex couples on par with different-sex couples throughout the United States. Only hours after the Court’s ruling in June, Davis ordered her staff to stop issuing marriage licenses. Though she has been charged with a court order, through her lawyers she expressed her belief that granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples “irreparably and irreversibly violates her conscience” because it goes against her religious beliefs. She stated that she fears going to Hell for violating “a central teaching” of the Bible if she were to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision.
Davis, however, seems to practice a form of “cafeteria Christianity” by picking and choosing which of the “central teachings” she will follow. Possibly Davis chose to run for the job of issuing marriage licenses in her county since she has been issued four herself by divorcing three times: 1994, 2006, and then again in 2008. In addition, according to published accounts, Davis “gave birth to twins five months after divorcing her first husband. They were fathered by her third husband but adopted by her second.”
Some current Republican candidates for president have overlooked her hypocrisy by supporting Davis’s decision to defy the law of the land. For example, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee issued a statement backing her: “I spoke with Kim Davis this morning to offer my prayers and support. I let her know how proud I am of her for not abandoning her religious convictions and standing strong for religious liberty. She is showing more courage and humility than just about any federal office holder in Washington.” Huckabee headed a rally supporting Davis on the day after Labor Day.
In addition, speaking with the Huffington Post, Governor Bobby Jindal stated that: “I don’t think anyone should have to choose between following their conscience and religious beliefs and giving up their job and facing financial sanctions. I think it’s wrong to force Christian individuals or business owners….I think you should be able to keep your job and follow your conscience.”
“Religious Freedom” to Discriminate
A movement has gained support in State Houses around this nation, as exemplified through Indiana’s new ironically named “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” When it first passed the state legislature, the law permitted businesses to refuse service to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans* people and members of all other groups businesses considered opposed to its religious judgments and precepts.
So what can we infer from those religions that justify such discriminatory treatment of other human beings? On what sacred tenets would a clerk deny a marriage license to a same-sex couple; a baker refuse to bake a confectionery delight; a photographer refuse to preserve joyous moments; a caterer refuse the pleasures of delectable sustenance; a florist refuse the beauties from the garden; a jeweler refuse a band connecting human souls; a realtor refuse the showing of shelters signifying new chapters in one’s book of time; a shop owner refuse the selling of common and special objects supporting and enhancing life; a restaurateur refuse anyone time away from the kitchen; a spiritual advisor refuse to treat one’s neighbor as oneself?
More ultimate questions need to be raised as the world spins around, as individuals and nations since recorded history have attempted to explain the mysteries of life, as spiritual and religious consciousness first developed and carried down through the ages, as people have come to believe their way stood as the right way, the only way, with all others as simple pretenders, which could never achieve THE truth, the certainty, the correct and right connection with the deity or deities and as individuals and entire nations raped, pillaged, enslaved, and exterminated any “others” believing differently.
In reality, all religious doctrine stems from uncertainty and conjecture, from multiple Gods, hybrid Gods and humans, to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, to the burning bush, to the covenant and the parting of the Red Sea, to the immaculate conception and resurrection, to Muhammad’s rising to heaven from the rock, to the golden tablets, all beginning with the human creation of God(s).
Resisters who defy authority for a higher purpose, such as people who engage in either violent or non-violent disobedience, do so with the clear understanding that they must accept responsibility for their actions. Mahatma Gandhi, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Miep Gies, Sojourner Truth and all the other brave conductors on the Underground Railroad, peace activists, conscientious objectors, security leakers like Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden, knew full well the consequences their actions could trigger, but they likewise understood and committed themselves to working for a greater cause and a greater truth than the laws they broke.
Kim Davis certainly does not walk in the footsteps of progressive leaders who took a stand to improve circumstances for oppressed people. Rather, she follows the muddled path of such people asAlabama Governor George Wallace who, in his 1963 inaugural address declared “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” and who stood at the door of Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963 to prevent the entry of two black students, Vivian Malone and James Hood.
What kind of greater truth or good does discriminating against an entire class of people engender? What kind of greater truth or good does withholding a marriage license and the dream of a life together for a same-sex couple produce? What kind of greater truth or good does defying the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Supreme Court’s decision generate?
If one has problems with the Constitution or court case interpretations, under the rule of law, the Constitution itself provides options that people and their legislatures can take. However, if one can justify denying a marriage license to a same-sex couple on “religious” grounds, where does the slippery slope of justifying discrimination on the so-called grounds of “religious liberty” end, or does it ever end?
Our decision whether to serve same-sex couples connects to whether we choose to serve people of color, people of religious backgrounds other than our own, people whose first language is other than English, people born in countries outside the United States, people whose gender identities or expressions differ from what societies construct as “traditional,” people of another sex and so on.
Some who oppose marriage equality for same-sex couples claim that this would undermine the sanctity of marriage, and possibly lead to the destruction of society, often using religious sanctions as their justification.
For example, responding to Vermont’s Civil Unions legislation in 2000, Catholic Cardinal Bernard Law reflected the opinion of a number of New England Cardinals and Bishops: “The Legislature of the State of Vermont, by passing the Civil Unions Bill, has attacked centuries of cultural and religious esteem for marriage between a man and a woman and has prepared the way for an attack on the well-being of society itself.”
Similarly, Robert Lewis Dabney, Professor of Theology at Union Seminary in Virginia, asserted: “What then, in the next place, will be the effect of this fundamental change when it shall be established? The obvious answer is, that it will destroy Christianity and civilization in America.”
Cardinal Law and Professor Dabney engaged in similar dire warnings, but, and here is the key, they are referring to two different events—the Cardinal referred to marriage for same-sex couples, Dabney, who lived from 1820-1898, referred to women’s suffrage—but they forewarned similar consequences: the destruction of the family and civilization as we know it.
Prior to 1967, a number of states within the U.S. prevented consenting adults from engaging in sexual activities, let along marriage, with anyone from another so-called “race.” In the case of Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), the Supreme Court of the United States, however, declared Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, unconstitutional, thereby overturning Pace v. Alabama (1883) and ending all race-based legal restrictions on adult consensual sexual activity and marriage throughout the U.S.
The plaintiffs in the case were Mildred Loving (born Mildred Deloris Jetter, a woman of African descent) and Richard Perry Loving (a man of white European descent), both residents of Virginia who married in June 1958 in the District of Columbia to evade Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act. Upon returning to Virginia, police officers arrested and charged them with violating the act. At the trial, the judge, Leon Bazile, used Biblical justifications to convict the couple:
“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and He placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with His arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that He separated the races shows that He did not intend for the races to mix.”
Can we learn any lessons here? I say we can. Both then and now, opponents of social equity have claimed Biblical justifications to deny people rights granted under the rule of law. Anyone can believe anything they wish, whether others find those beliefs laudable or offensive. When, however, the expression of those beliefs denies other individuals or groups their full human and civil rights, a critical line has been crossed, for they have entered into the realm of oppression, and they must be confronted.
In actuality, I find the answer to the problem posed by Kim Davis very simple. If one does not approve of marriage for same-sex couples, simply don’t marry someone of one’s own sex. If, however, one has license-granting authority, one must do so or accept responsibility for the consequences.
Photo credit: Flickr/TedEytan