Sunday, September 13, 2015

219.1 - Kim Davis and the religious right

Kim Davis and the religious right

I'm going to go on about this at some length this week because after this I hope to put it aside until there is some real development.

Kim Davis
So Kim Davis has been set free because Judge David Bunning, who jailed her for contempt, said he was satisfied that in her absence her assistant clerks were following the law and issuing marriage licenses to all qualified couples, including same-sex ones.

He did this, I think mistakenly, without obtaining any promise from her that she would not interfere with those assistant clerks continuing to do so, although he did warn her against doing it. Frankly, I don't expect her to follow the law now any more than she did before, particularly since Davis has already told Bunning that she would not allow any same sex marriage licenses to be issued from her office, even if she wasn't the one signing them. So I strongly suspect we will be right back here before too long.

Anyway, she was freed to the cheers of a throng of supporters crying "Amen" and "Praise Jesus" with - get this - "Eye of the Tiger" blaring from the PA.

Which, when you come down to it, is the real issue here: not Kim Davis, but her supporters and what they tell us about the desires and intentions of the right wing and the religious fanatics who have a significant voice in driving it. Kim Davis is not the issue, she is just the current focus of the issue.

So no, Kim Davis is not the real issue. She is one person, but what's significant is that she is one person who is being turned into the symbol, the poster child, for anti-gay bigotry and don't let anybody try to tell you that it's anything else.

Mike Huckabee
Mike Huckleberryhound was at the rally when Davis was released and he said “We don’t gather here because we hate anybody. We gather here today because we love God and this country. And we do not want to see this country become the smoldering remains of a great republic."

And what will make for the US being reduced to smoldering remains? By all appearances, it's being unable to discriminate against LGBT people.

So again, Kim Davis is not the issue. But I want to pause there because there are some things I do want to say about her.

First, I can accept that Kim Davis really does believe what she is saying about same-sex marriage. She is hopelessly, totally, perfectly wrong, morally, ethically, and legally, but I can accept that she really does believe it. What I am curious about is what she believed on the topic before what she calls her conversion experience, which she dates to about four years ago.

Which before I go on brings up something else. I mentioned last week, lots of people mentioned, that she is on her fourth husband - although you could say it's her third because she married the first one, then the second one, then the third one, and then the second one again - and she had twins as the result of an extra-marital affair while married to her first husband.

Now while I think it is relevant to mention all that, it is part of the context, it is part of the history, I don't think we should dwell on it because she will say (and has said) that as part of her conversion she was "forgiven" for all that and that she is a different person now, the latter of which you can accept may well be true even if you don't believe in the former.

However, I still wish someone would ask her what were her views on same-sex marriage before her conversion. Frankly, I would suspect that she held an "anti" view even then - which would mean that she is not against it now because of the Bible but rather that the Bible is now the justification for that prejudice.

Obviously, I don't know that for certain but I'm reasonably confident. First because polls say a majority of those in Kentucky even now are against same-sex marriage and it would be reasonable to expect the figure was even higher four years ago, so she would be part of a heavy majority. And second, because it is a pretty constant pattern for people who have such conversion experiences to not change their social and political opinions in its wake. People generally don't find that if they were tolerant of various things before they suddenly are against them or that if they were intolerant of those things before that now they are suddenly much more open-minded. As a general rule, those sorts of attitudes don't change much. There might be some degree of shift in one direction or the others, some change in emphasis, but overall, not a lot of difference.

So the idea that Kim Davis could be using the Bible as an excuse for her prejudice is not at all unreasonable.

But even so, I can believe that, with all the passion of the new convert, she is sincere in believing it's all about "God's authority." I can believe, that is, that she believes this is for her a matter of conscience. I believe in the power, the dignity, of the human conscience and I believe in the inviolability of the human conscience. As a result, I can respect, even admire, her willingness to go to jail rather than do something she honestly believes is against her conscience.

What I can't accept is her insistence that she should be able to continue as a county clerk, that she should get exactly what those of her ilk are always claiming same-sex couples are after: special treatment, special rights. Which of course same-sex couples aren't, they are only looking for equal rights, but special treatment is exactly what she is demanding.

Your conscience says you can't do the job? I understand - perhaps more than you think, because I have in the past quit a job over a matter of conscience. Which is exactly what she should do: You can't do the job, you quit and do something else. But no, not Kim Davis, not her lawyers, not her supporters, no, they say she gets to keep the job, the rest of us just have to change the rules to suit her.

Rev. Emily Heath
That is what she and her lawyers are demanding: special exemptions carved out for her convenience, special treatment for her so she can deny equal treatment to others. That is hypocrisy.

At least partly in response, Rev. Emily Heath of the United Church of Christ recently wrote about her own decision to not apply for a job as a chaplain in a federal prison because of her opposition to the death penalty, deciding she could not work in a system that upheld the option of killing someone:
"Religious liberty is guaranteed in this country. But that does not mean that every job needs to bend to your particular interpretation of your faith. If you really believe doing your job is violating your faith, then stepping aside would be a small price to pay for the love of the Gospel."
But apparently quitting her $80,000-a-year job is too big a price for Kim Davis.

You want more proof of the hypocrisy? Her lawyers have gone to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, the same federal court system whose orders she openly and repeatedly defies, demanding it order Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear to let Davis refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

On the other hand, I have to add that maybe, just maybe, its not hypocrisy; maybe its something else. After Kim Davis was jailed, her husband Joe emerged to say "They have illegally put my wife in jail so we’re gonna ask Beshear to do his job or step down.” The lack of self-awareness truly is astounding.

Her supporters have made comparisons to Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. Are they kidding or just nitwits, I say before noting they are not famed for their sense of humor.

Rosa Parks was a private citizen defying what she knew to be the law for the purpose of challenging it for the benefit of an entire community. Kim Davis is a public official, charged with following the law, who wants an exemption from her duties just for herself. As John Culhane put it at, Kim Davis is "Rosa Parks' bus driver, denying a service to the public."

The comparisons to Dr. King are, if possible, more absurd. Not only was King, like Parks and unlike Davis, acting on behalf of many, but if Kim Davis feels a conflict between the law and her conscience, she is free to stop being a county clerk. When black Americans experience a conflict between the law and their conscience, their dignity as human beings, they are not free to stop being black. There simply is not comparison.

"You will follow my Bible!"
But this brings us back around to what I said was the real issue: not Davis, her supporters. Because like the man in the play said, "Ignorance and fanaticism are forever hungry and need feeding." And Kim Davis is the caterer of the moment.

Because with all their "Praise Jesus"'s and all their woo-hooing of Davis's invocation of "God's law," Davis's supporters are emblematic of the fact that there are those, too many of those, there are those who hold that members of government in their official duties must be allowed to carry them out in accordance with their personal understanding of the Bible - more properly, with the fundamentalists' understanding of the Bible. That is, what the shouted "Amens!" of the Bible-thumpers amount to is a declaration that the Bible, their interpretation of the Bible, overrules civil law - which, if it's not a working definition of a theocracy, I can't imagine what would be.

Oh, but "Wait, wait!" we'll get told! "It's the other way around! Its religious freedom! You're oppressing our religious freedom!"

Rev. Heath had a good response to that nonsense:
When someone is being asked to follow the law, and issue a marriage license, and they say they are being persecuted, I just don't buy it. You are being no more persecuted than I was when I decided not to be a prison chaplain. If you really believe doing your job is against your faith, then quitting would be an act of faith. Defying the law so two people you will never see again can't get married? Not so much.
Unfortunately, there are those, not many but even a handful is too many, there are indee3d those in government who hold that being expected to live up to their oath of office is religious persecution from which they should be freed by being able to decide what parts of that oath they will follow.

A few examples: In  Oregon, in the wake of a May 2014 federal court ruling that made same-sex marriage legal in that state, Marion County Judge Vance Day instructed his staff to refer same-sex couples to other judges and then, apparently wanting to avoid a discrimination claim even though discriminating was exactly what he was doing, stopped performing weddings altogether.

Two other clerks in Kentucky - Casey Davis, no relation, in Casey County, and Kay Schwartz in Whitley County - are also refusing to issue marriage license to same-sex couples based on the same bogus religious-freedom argument. You haven't heard about them because they have not yet been the target of any legal challenges.

And last month, the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Conduct found it necessary to say judges can’t refuse to marry same-sex couples on personal, moral, or religious grounds - that is, they can't refuse to do their jobs. The very fact that they had to say it shows just how deep is the determination among some to refuse to face the reality of social change.

Because that's what this is: a refusal to face reality. We knew - or we damn well should have known - that the victory on same-sex marriage at SCOTUS would not be the end of the issue, that the dead-enders would throw up every roadblock they could. And they are doing just that. There is still a fight to be fought on same-sex marriage and even more on the broader question of LGBTQ rights.

But at the same time, let's keep in mind and take heart from what that reality is: The fact is that in most places in this country, same-sex couples can get married without problems, that most of those judges and magistrates and county clerks and whatever who do disapprove of same-sex marriage are saying "my job is to uphold the law so I will," and most of all that the reason Kim Davis is such big news is precisely because she is by far the exception.

Justice is coming, justice will come.

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