Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Strange Case of Kim Davis

Now that the heavily publicized case of Kim Davis has passed into the realm of "last week's news," it's worth looking at it with a non-feverish temperature. After all, it ranks as one of the strangest in recent memory and the issues involved are consequential.

Davis holds the office of County Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, a rural jurisdiction not far from the spot where Kentucky borders Ohio and West Virginia. Throughout the controversy, the home page of the Rowan County government has continued to list her as its contact ( and continued to consist of an introduction whose author is explicitly identified as her. The introduction states such things as "I am responsible for providing many services to the people" and "Our office is here to serve the public in a friendly, professional and efficient manner."

As you probably know, Davis has made waves by refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples -- and refusing to allow her employees to do so -- on the grounds that doing so violates her religious beliefs. Because she continued to refuse even after a federal court ordered her to relent, she was jailed for contempt of court on the order of U.S. District Judge David Bunning.

What you probably don't know is that Davis is a Democrat. Something else you probably don't know is that Bunning is a conservative who was appointed by George W. Bush.

Again: The case of Kim Davis is one of the strangest in recent memory.

Most Democrats (i.e., most liberals) oppose her and consider her vile, but most of them have no idea she's one of them (!) because the mainstream media have been silent about that fact. I can't help but wonder what Democrats/liberals would do if they knew? Would they ignore the fact and give her a pass like they did for the late Robert Byrd (a Democrat who served in the U.S. Senate until 2010 despite having been a Grand Keagle for the KKK and having never apologized for his activities with that peculiar institution)?

(I hereby take this opportunity to state that if you've spent any time paying attention to the media's ways, the fact that they did not disclose Davis's political party when they identified her as a bigot should have immediately clued you in that her party's mascot is a donkey, but I digress.)

As for Republicans (i.e., most conservatives) it's fair to say that their reactions to Davis are all over the map. Because the media is not giving the public an honest or fair description of the range of conservative thinking on this matter, I have decided to do their job for them, and here I go.

*     *     *     *     *

One conservative school of thought is that Kim Davis is a perfect example of everything that is wrong with government. This is because she's refusing to follow the law despite being elected to do so and taking an oath to do so -- an oath that states "I will not knowingly or willingly commit any malfeasance of office, and will faithfully execute the duties of my office without favor, affection or partiality, so help me God" (emphasis mine). The rule of law is one of conservatism's core principles, and to flagrantly break such a vow is to flagrantly violate the rule of law

For those who don't know, the rule of law, often described as "a government of laws and not of men," means that each person is equally bound to follow the law regardless of his or her place in society. It means there is not one set of rules for the government and another for the governed. It means there is not one set of rules for the rich and another for the poor. It means that if an elected official or millionaire CEO breaks a law, he or she must endure the same punishment a bricklayer would endure for breaking the same law. In short, the rule of law makes us equal and protects us as individuals.

The virtues of this principle are obvious... If history tells us anything, it tells us that when government officials are allowed to violate one law, they: 1) are certain to violate more; 2) will not give a damn if their violations infringe on the rights of citizens; and 3) will probably take all kinds of measures to punish citizens for doing things they, the government officials, don't like... Therefore, conservatives who oppose Kim Davis for violating the rule of law are right to do so.

*     *     *     *     *

In response to those who oppose Kim Davis's violation of her oath, other conservatives say: "But wait! Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right, and American jurisprudence has always affirmed that government may not force individuals to act in ways that are against their religious beliefs. Therefore, Kim Davis should not be compelled to sign off on gay marriage licenses if her theology holds that gay marriage is against the will of God." Conservatives who make this point are also right to do so.

In response to them, other conservatives (including some already on record opposing her violation of her oath) chime in to say: "But wait! Nowhere in the U.S. Constitution is anyone guaranteed a right to a particular job. If Kim Davis refuses to perform a public duty that is in keeping with her oath, why should she keep the job? For that matter, if she believes she can not in good faith put her imprimatur on gay marriage licenses, how can she in good faith work for an entity that puts its imprimatur on them? Would a pro-life OB/GYN agree to work for Planned Parenthood as long as he personally was not required to perform one of the 300,000+ abortions that Planned Parenthood performs every year? Of course not! Kim Davis should either resign or face the consequences imposed by Judge Bunning. To voluntarily work for an entity that does something you abhor is to tacitly endorse whatever that thing is." Conservatives who make this point are right to do so.

Then, the counter-counter-rebuttal goes like this: "But wait! A choice between unemployment and imprisonment is no choice at all, and certainly not a just choice. Since a gay couple unable to obtain a marriage license in Rowan County can simply drive a short distance to Carter County and get one there, their rights have not even been denied, not in any real sense. Kim Davis, however, has had her religious rights denied if she is forced into prison or unemployment as a consequence of adhering to her faith. Therefore, if you don't support her you don't support social justice." Conservatives who make this point are right to do so.

People making the above claim are likely to add: "It is hypocritical for liberals to advocate the rule of law where gay marriage is concerned, while openly celebrating law-breaking when it comes to immigration, blocking loggers from cutting down trees, etc." And they are right to say so.

But meanwhile, the counter to the counter-counter-rebuttal goes like this: "Your counter-counter-rebuttal does not actually address the point I made in my counter-rebuttal, so let me again stress that Miss Davis is free to seek employment from every entity in America, not only from the Rowan County Government -- but no entity in America, including the Rowan County Government, can be forced to employ her. In fact, since her employment by the county government is dependent on her getting a majority vote from the county's citizens, her so-called right to work for it is even more non-existent than my non-existent right to work for my employer. Nothing is a right if it forces a person or entity to do something that he, she, or it would not do voluntarily."

Conservatives making that statement could also add, with the enthusiastic support of every secular liberal on Earth: "By the way, by taking a vow to 'faithfully execute' her official duties 'so help me God,' and then refusing to execute those duties, Kim Davis actually broke a promise she made to God; and since she was not elected until ten months ago, at which time she had to know the Supreme Court was going to be ruling on gay marriage, she can not claim that she didn't see this coming and that her promise-breaking is thus mitigated."

Conservatives who make either of the statements in the two previous paragraphs are right to do so.

So round and round it goes and where it stops nobody knows, because every position regarding Kim Davis is based upon valid concerns, and those concerns are built on valid foundations.

Again: The case of Kim Davis is one of the strangest in recent memory.

*     *     *     *     *

I find it noteworthy that the back-and-forth debate among conservatives shows they are focused not so much on Kim Davis, or on gay marriage in and of itself, but instead on larger, more consequential matters about the power and scope of government. They are focused on how precedents set today could affect future generations tomorrow.

Conversely, liberals seem to be responding emotionally and their reactions seem to be inextricably bound to their beliefs about gay marriage, even when their beliefs about gay marriage are intellectual.

But I am becoming politically partisan about something that is not politically partisan. When it comes to Kim Davis, I get the impression that emotions and thoughts tend to bleed through and fuse together even more than usual; and therefore, I get the impression that at the end of the day it's hard to separate your thoughts about her from your feelings about gay marriage. Thus she has become a proxy for some people's real and imagined enemies, and a proxy for other people's real and imagined heroes.

On a similar note, it is hard to separate your thoughts about her from your feelings about religion, but this difficulty leads different people to different conclusions. After all, among the pious are some who oppose gay marriage (Rick Santorum) and some who support it (Greg Baugues).

It is also hard to separate your thoughts about Kim Davis from your beliefs about political affiliations, and this leads many people to make faulty assumptions, as evidenced by the fact that most Americans assume she is a Republican when she is actually a Democrat. Contrary to the media spin, there are quite a few conservatives who favor gay marriage (Dick Cheney) and more than a handful of liberals who oppose it (David Blankenhorn).

In fact, there are famous gay people who oppose gay marriage (Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana).

Again: The case of Kim Davis is one of the strangest in recent memory.

*     *     *     *     *

So what should the average citizen think about all this?

Obviously, each citizen must decide that for himself, but as I see it, the many wrinkles in Kim Davis's situation illustrate why we should respect each other's opinions without making judgments about each other's character. This case is a perfect example of one in which reasonable people can simply disagree and then enjoy a beer together. It is a perfect example of why The Thought Police should not be allowed to run roughshod in a free society, which we Americans fancy ours to be.

Most people who support gay marriage are not opposed to the traditional nuclear family. Rather, they see marriage as a fundamental affirmation of two people committing themselves to each other, and they believe it is wrong to deny homosexuals the right to make that affirmation simply because they were born homosexual.

Most people who oppose gay marriage do not hate gay people. In fact, many of them have gay friends and relatives. However, they believe that marriage is based specifically on children and they know that homosexual relationships, by definition, are incapable of even producing children. By extension, these people believe marriage to be the primary building block of society, and they believe that any fundamental change in a society's concept of marriage could undermine that society's long-term stability.

Both positions are defensible and ethical. Those who stand on either side of this issue should be able to acknowledge the validity of the other side. Those who reflexively dislike Kim Davis should be able to acknowledge that the concerns raised by her case are important, and are not even about her.

Those who reflexively rush to Davis's defense should be able to understand that she is far from a martyr, since a thrice-divorced woman makes for a rather peculiar defender of traditional marriage.

Many people are eager to exempt Davis from the charge of hypocrisy because of the fact she did not convert to Christianity until a few years ago -- but an equal number of people, including more than a few Christians, are wondering just what kind of person she is to have chosen the fiery Apostolic Church as the one to call home.

Again: The case of Kim Davis is one of the strangest in recent memory.

*     *     *     *     *

So where do I stand?

Well, first I should affirm some things about my mindset, for that background is important.

I believe religious freedom is essential to human freedom and I believe it is the core American principle. I believe this intuitively, and I believe it based on what I have learned from studying history. After all, religious freedom is the very reason the Pilgrims set sail on the Mayflower, and it was free religious conscience that eventually drove a majority of Americans to support the Civil Right Movement.

I believe that marriage, as originally constructed in multiple religions and multiple societies around the globe, is not about the adults who enter into its covenant. Instead, it is about the children who are meant to be conceived within the covenant.

I believe the original purpose of marriage was to create a stable and loving environment in which to rear children. The "micro" reason for this is that such an environment is integral to children's well-being, and remains integral to their psychology after they reach adulthood. The "macro" reason is that the raising of children into well-adjusted adults is necessary for any society to prosper and endure.

Because children were the raison d'etre for marriage being conceived, I believe marriage was conceived as a "one-man, one-woman" arrangement. For that same reason, I have long believed that people involved in any other arrangement could not have any interest in marriage. I remember when plenty of people mocked marriage by calling it "just a piece of paper," and I suspect that a majority of those very same people are now supporters of gay marriage.

However, I also believe that the construction of marriage changed several decades ago, and that it changed with society's approval.

Further, I believe it changed with the consent (and thus the approval) of religious authorities, as evidenced by the signatures of countless preachers appearing on the marriage certificates of fiftysomething brides and grooms who were divorced from their original spouses and could not bear children together.

I also believe that religious authorities knowingly relinquished their authority to call the shots whenever it was that they consented to government being involved in marriage (after all, preachers themselves say "by the power vested in me by the state of _____" every time they marry people).

And here's the kicker: Contrary to what most Americans think, the institution of marriage in our country is now stronger than it was thirty years ago. Divorce rates have been dropping since the early 1980's, and the percentage of couples who married in the 1990's and made it past their 15th anniversary exceeds that of couples who married in the 1970's and 1980's. And when compared against available anniversary benchmarks, couples who married in the 2000's are doing even better than those who married in the 1990's. (If you don't believe me, go here to start reading more and here to peruse a year-by-year chart of divorce rates.)

Of course, multiple factors influence every issue, and just because A correlates with B does not mean that A causes B. Nonetheless, the numbers are what they are, and they show that America's marital stability has grown stronger throughout the same period that America's acceptance of gay marriage has increased. So count me unconvinced that the sky is falling, and pardon me for not assuming the worst of my fellow Americans.

I admit that I am sympathetic to the concerns raised by the defenders of traditional marriage, and like I already said, I do not believe the majority of those people are bigots. But I also do not believe that the majority of gay couples applying for marriage licenses are doing so flippantly; and since I know gay people who are married, I can say with certainty that those particular individuals take their vows just as seriously as Erika and I take ours.

Given all the problems in the world, gay marriage strikes me as an odd hill for the defenders of marriage to choose to die upon. Those defenders were not exactly quiet when "no fault divorce" became vogue, nor were they exactly quiet when society stopped being openly scornful of adultery, but I don't remember them being nearly as noisy then as they are now. Why is their dedication suddenly so much more fierce than it was before?

Count me among those who believe that Kim Davis should resign if she thinks she can not carry out her oath in good conscience. But at the same time, I struggle to get the words "she belongs in prison" out of my mouth tonight, even though I have said them in conversation and typed them in Facebook messages. The more I think about it, the more I think she does not belong in jail or prison -- largely because plenty of much bigger fish, including recent Attorney General Eric Holder, have openly defied the law and walked away free.

Religious freedom is real, and no matter what we think about Kim Davis's personal character or choice of denomination, it is not for us to judge her sincerity. Like I said, gay couples in Rowan County can simply drive to a neighboring county for a marriage license, so she has never put their rights in anywhere near as much jeopardy as the liberal zeitgeist has put hers.

But Kim Davis has no more right to be employed by the citizens of Rowan County than does anyone else who lives in the county. She is free to live according to the dictates of her conscience, but she is not free to do so at the expense of others who have no say in the matter. The Rowan County taxpayers pay her salary and fund her benefits, and when they elected her in November 2014 they did not know she was going to defy the oath they asked her to take by electing her. Therefore, she should resign and "get a real job" like everybody else.

But so should Barack Obama, in my opinion, for he too has defied the law (actually the Constitution) after taking an oath to uphold it.

It makes no sense to focus on small fish like Davis while ignoring the big fish whose malfeasance affects everyone.

Again: The case of Kim Davis is one of the strangest in recent memory.

No comments: