Did Davis collect marriage licenses issued to gay couples during her jail hitch and issue new ones that removed all mention of the Rowan County clerk’s office and its staff? If true, the charge could land Davis back in the federal court.
The “Kim Davis Revue” isn’t funny or even entertaining anymore.
It might have been a laugh or two to watch and read about the Kentucky clerk whose refusal to license gay couples has throttled her to cyber notoriety as everything from a martyred victim of religious persecution to a symbol of homophobic hate and conservative Christianity at its most un-Christian.
Now, however, it has collapsed into an offensive public charade of self-promotion at the expense of same-sex couples who have the misfortune of wanting to marry in Rowan County, Ky., and an insult to Christians who have a faith rooted in biblical Christianity but who respect others to hold and practice different views. But the latest development in Davis’ case unleashes doubt about the legal and ethical practices of elected office-holders and casts a pall on the integrity of “public service.”
The American Civil Liberties Union on Sept. 21 filed court documents claiming Davis collected marriage licenses issued to gay couples during her jail hitch on a contempt citation and issued new ones that removed all mention of the Rowan County clerk’s office and its staff. Those licenses purportedly do not identify the office staffer who issued the marriage licenses as a deputy clerk but only as a notary public acting “pursuant to Federal Court Order.”
If true, the charge could land Davis back in the federal court of David Bunning, the judge who sent her to jail for ignoring his earlier order to issue marriage licenses to all couples and who released her from lockup after five days. The lone condition of Davis’ release was that she not interfere “directly or indirectly” with her staff issuing licenses to gay couples. ACLU attorneys argue Davis’ alleged doctoring of licenses that were issued when she was in jail violates the court’s prohibition of direct or indirect interference.
That could get Davis returned to jail on a second contempt finding. But that’s apparently fine with her. In an interview Sept. 21 with “Good Morning America” that is seen as the launch of a media blitz, Davis, a self-described Apostolic Christian, said she will risk jail again over compromising her religious beliefs. If Davis is remanded back into custody, we can predict a continuation of the revue of political and public supporters coming to her defense and critics vilifying her even further.
But what’s the big deal if Davis actually altered licenses issued by her office?
The wording of documents in federal, state and local government offices are written by lawmakers – not officer-holders – for those documents to reflect the written law. An elected officer-holder who alters the wording arguably could be breaking the law but, inarguably and at the very least, is breaching the ethical integrity of the office and its staff.
Either way, removal from office or impeachment of the elected official becomes a viable option. And in Davis’ case, that appears to be the only avenue open under Kentucky law if legislators there determine they’ve had enough of Davis’ demand that her religious beliefs excuse from carrying out her oath of office to follow the law.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, asked if he would intervene one way or the other in Davis’ case, answered in a Newsweek story published a day after Davis was sent to jail, “The future of the Rowan County clerk is now in the hands of the courts. The legislature has placed the authority to issue marriage licenses squarely on county clerks by statute, and I have no legal authority to relieve her of her statutory duty by executive order or to remove her from office.” But in what might be a hint of things to come, Beshear added, “The (Kentucky) General Assembly will convene in four months (January 2016) and can make any statutory changes it deems necessary at that time. I see no need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money calling a special session of the General Assembly when 117 of 120 county clerks are doing their jobs.”
Even if it goes to the state legislative body, however, lawmakers may not force Davis from her $80,000-a-year-job.
Whatever is yet to come and through all that has gone down so far, Davis has been nearly sanctimonious in defending her conduct as faithful to her religious beliefs. Skeptics aren’t totally convinced. Some argue Davis’ alleged doctoring of the documents the ACLU disputes is part of a broader plan to make sure gay marriages licensed by her office are deemed invalid down the road. Others suspect Davis is merely milking the public for monetary gain and pandering for a book and movie deal.
The former is more believable than the latter. According to The Inquisitor, an online news service, if a book deal with a hefty advance is in the works, no publishing company is admitting it or negotiations are secret And if Davis is getting cash donation from supporters across the country, it is likely being done privately because online fundraising outfits – notably GoFundMe – will not allow fundraising for recipients who are facing litigation in discrimination cases.
Of course, Davis has the option to simply resign.
But her attorneys from the conservative Christian and rabidly anti-gay Liberty Council and the current of Ms. Davis’ four husbands vow she will never step down: doing that would be unfaithful to her religion, they say. That’s unfortunate for those of us who are tired of the Davis revue and are offended what it has come to represent: a self-absorbed woman elected to an office for which she clearly is not qualified and who obviously expects her religious “rights” to trump the legal rights of the people who elected her to serve them.
Anyone eager to see Davis’ case become yesterday’s news – equality advocates and civil libertarians with more important issues to address, Christians who say Davis has done more damage than good to the cause of religious freedom, and Kentucky lawmakers if they don’t act – are then left with the question: Miss Davis, would you mind terribly getting lost?
Photo credit: Getty Images