Abraham Lincoln was supposed to have said on the occasion of meeting Uncle Tom’s Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”
Kim Davis, a lowly county clerk in Kentucky, has singlehandedly reignited the debate over same sex marriage. She is invoking “God’s authority” in justifying her continued denial of marriage licenses to same sex couples. And now, a federal judge has called her and her entire staff into court to explain themselves.
U.S. District Judge David Bunning moved swiftly Tuesday after a lesbian couple asked him to find Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis in contempt. Davis told several couples and a crowd of supporters and protesters that her religious beliefs prevent her from sanctioning gay marriage, and then retreated again, closing her office door and blinds to the raucous scene outside.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene Monday night, leaving Davis no legal ground for her continued refusal Tuesday morning. Lawyers for the two gay couples who originally sued her asked the judge Tuesday to find her in contempt, but punish her with only financial penalties, not jail time.
“Since Defendant Davis continues to collect compensation from the Commonwealth for duties she fails to perform,” they asked Bunning to “impose financial penalties sufficiently serious and increasingly onerous” to compel her immediate compliance without delay.
Rowan County Attorney Cecil Watkins says the federal court alerted him that a hearing is scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday in Ashland.
As an elected official, Davis can’t be fired; her impeachment would have to wait until the Legislature’s regular session next year or a costly special session.
Davis rejected David Moore and David Ermold’s license request for a fourth time, and then told them to leave.
“We’re not leaving until we have a license,” Ermold said as reporters and cameras surrounded them.
“Then you’re going to have a long day,” Davis told him, and then retreated into her inner office.
From the back of the room, Davis’ supporters said: “Praise the Lord! … Stand your ground.”
Other activists shouted that Davis is a bigot and told her: “Do your job.”
The sheriff then moved everyone out to the courthouse lawn, where James Yates and Will Smith Jr., who were denied a license for a fifth time, left red-eyed and shaking.
“It’s just too hard right now,” Yates said, choking back tears and holding hands as they rushed to their car.
Devout Christians will no doubt find inspiration in Mrs. Davis’s stand. But if you care a whit about the law and the Constitution, you should be upset and angry. She says her religious beliefs prevent her from carrying out her defined duties. When that kind of conflict occurs, her only recourse is to resign. And when confronted by a court order telling her to issue the licenses, she should either comply or resign.
This is not the same as a baker or a florist refusing to take part in a gay wedding. It’s a matter of a legally binding court order being flouted. You can sympathize, even admire, Mrs. Davis for her stand. But she can’t pick and choose which laws she will obey, and which she will ignore.
Davis is allowing her personal religious beliefs to interfere in the performance of her public duties. “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s,” Jesus said. A very wise man, he. And Mrs. Mills would do well to recall those words when trying to justify her stance.