OK. It's fashionable nowadays among my set to want to excoriate Kim Davis for her refusal to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. "It's the law!" some say. "The Supreme Court rejected her appeal!" cry others. Some (me included) chuckle at the absurdity of a 4-times-married woman, whose twins were conceived in adultery, could have the gall to disapprove of someone else's life choices based on moral grounds. I know that Christ forgives the most grievous sinner, but Kimmy, a little humility wouldn't hurt.
So why wasn't this whole thing handled some other way?
When Kim went to jail last week for contempt of court, all but one of her fellow clerks (the holdout being her son) happily handed over the paperwork to gays and lesbians wishing to marry. But Kim claims that marriage licenses are not valid without her signature, though there is disagreement about this. This is where where the personal becomes the public. If there were several clerks in the office who handled marriage licenses, and one of them thought gay marriage was a sin, all she would have to say is, "Hey Patty. Would you handle these two? I don't approve of what they are doing." And that would have been that.
But Kim is going further than refusing to participate personally in handing out marriage licenses to applicants. Not want to be party to "sin" in any way, she is preventing her deputy clerks from handing out the licenses, and thereby in effect making the county government party to her religious objections. I would have no issues if Kim delegated to others the work she thought personally sinful or odious. Like a PETA member hoping to avoid giving out hunting licenses or a Christian Scientist begging off from organizing a blood drive, as long as there was someone else available to do the "dirty" work, no one need know that one of the clerks didn't approve. But if the PETA member or Christian Scientist blocked others from performing lawful and acceptable activities, they would rightly be accused of using their government offices to promote their personal causes. They would make the government a partner in their cause. And under the Constitution, which folks like Kim swore to uphold, that's intolerable. If they persisted, they would and should be fired.
Davis supporters like Mike Huckabee are comparing Kim to Rosa Parks. And honestly, the comparison is not inapt. Both used civil disobedience to challenge a law they felt was unjust. Both went to jail. But in Parks' case, her action led to the Birmingham bus boycott, which pressured the local government to change a local law. In Kim's case, aside from a few of her vocal supporters, there is not much oomph in the desire of the public to alter the law that allowed same-sex marriage. Thank goodness, because if there were widespread opposition to same-sex marriage, Davis would come out as a winner.
Today, we honor figures like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., for facing jail, beatings and death for their beliefs. It's a little scary to think that their success was predicated not on their own efforts, but on the ability of the general public to see their struggle as worthy. Without a sympathetic public, Parks's and King's efforts would have fizzled. At this point, the people of America are by and large for gay marriage and against Davis blocking marriage licenses. Ultimately, it's up to us, the people, to decide whether Davis is a heroine, or just an bigoted, self-righteous and hypocritical nuisance.
Is that comforting? Or terrifying?