Did Kim Davis make a strategic error?


[UPDATE: Federal judge David Bunning has ordered that Davis can be released from jail since five of the six deputy clerks have been issuing licenses to all qualified people and “provided that she shall not interfere in any way, directly or indirectly, with the efforts of her deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples.” You can read the judge’s order here. It is not clear as yet if Davis agrees to those conditions. She is probably checking with Jesus who is wondering why the hell this woman keeps bugging him with her petty concerns.]

Rowan County clerk Kim Davis continues to be in jail for contempt for defying a federal judge’s order to issue marriage licenses. She has asked the governor of Kentucky to release her from jail so that, according to her lawyers, “she can do her job”, but he has refused to do so, which seems appropriate since not doing her job is what landed her in jail in the first place.

While the reality-based community thinks that government employees should simply carry out what the law says is their duty and not assume that their personal views take precedence over everything else, Davis is seen as a hero and martyr to anti-gay Christians. Her supporters have even rallied outside the judge’s home and called for the sheriff to arrest him for “contempt of the Court of Almighty God and the constitutions of both Kentucky and the United States” and for “putting this precious little girl” in jail. Referring to the 49-year old Davis as a “precious little girl” is already pretty weird.

But there is one aspect of her refusal that has not been getting as much attention as it deserves. Her defense is that issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples goes against her religious beliefs. But the problem with the defense is that she refused to issue licenses to all couples, not just same-sex ones. While she can claim that her refusal to issue licenses to same-sex couples is because she is following her god’s law, what is the basis for her denying them to heterosexual couples, as she had been doing up right up until the point that the US Supreme Court ruled that bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional? Why isn’t she being asked this question?

Her refusal to issue the latter licenses seem to me to be a clear and unequivocal refusal to carry out the duties of her office and thus could form the grounds for action by the state’s attorney general and the basis of impeachment by the Kentucky legislature, assuming they were inclined to do so.

She may have thought initially that refusing to issue all licenses was a better option that refusing just a subset but it seems to me to be a strategic error in that it could be used to remove her from office without the complications of religious beliefs entering the picture.

Comments

  1. astrosmash says

    That’s a really good point. If she refuses to issue marriage licenses to ANYONE applying, then MAYBE they would let her just do all the other stuff…But my take is that she wouldn’t even allow those working under her to issue them either…

  2. Chiroptera says

    Mano Singham: While she can claim that her refusal to issue licenses to same-sex couples is because she is following her god’s law, what is the basis for her denying them to heterosexual couples, as she had been doing up right up until the point that the US Supreme Court ruled that bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional?

    When I first heard that, I assumed that the defense was going to be that since she wasn’t giving anyone a marriage license, she couldn’t be accused of denying same sex couples their constitutional rights.

    But this means that I’m baffled as well as to why this wasn’t brought up.

  3. says

    Davis’s motives are about principal, not principle, it’s a “get rich quick” scheme. A “help donation” site was created before there was ever a public outcry to raise money for her (a la the “pizza wedding” case). “Go fund me” booted Davis off because it was politically motivated.

    http://www.salon.com/2015/09/04/no_gofundme_for_kim_davis_crowdfunding_puts_the_brakes_on_the_disturbing_bigots_get_rich_quick_trend/

    The far right have been generous with their donations. So far they have given Davis $40. Total. The only support she has gotten in any amount is lip service from Fox Nuisance.

    Would it shock you to learn that “samaritan’s purse” is the only website willing to raise money for Davis? Not even NOM have helped. “Purse” is owned by Franklin Graham, son of Billy, and proselytizes religion in disaster zones, rather than giving aid to the needy.

    http://www.democraticunderground.com/10027140472

    She thought she was going get rich but now knows her scam was a failure. Eventually, she will cave in and agree to do what she’s told. No, she won’t be “swallowing her pride”, that would require having a sense of shame and embarrassment. Hypocrites don’t feel either. Her only concern is getting paid.

  4. Saad says

    She has been ordered not to interfere directly or indirectly with the issuing of marriage licenses to all eligible couples.

    I’m wondering what exactly that means. Does she sign all marriage licenses? So does that mean the order is for her to sign them? I thought she had made it clear she won’t be doing that.

  5. screechymonkey says

    I echo the observations of others that her goal is to make money as a martyr on the Christian conservative rubber chicken and book circuit. I wouldn’t be too quick to deem those efforts a failure: she’s getting support from Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz.

    Anyway, with that goal as the context, getting impeached by the legislature is a feature, not a bug. Davis doesn’t really want to spend months in prison, but she doesn’t want to be seen as giving in, either — nobody wants to read a book by the woman who fought for a little while until it became inconvenient. She has to either get something she can call a “win,” or else go down swinging.

    I actually find her latest position — that she’ll go back to work as long as her name doesn’t appear on the same-sex marriage certificates signed by her deputies — to be a potentially reasonable one. I’d want to know more about whether it’s a nontrivial expense to the state to have different certificates printed up, etc., but it seems like the kind of thing states deal with all the time as government officials change jobs, lose elections, and so forth.

  6. Saad says

    screechymonkey, #6

    I actually find her latest position — that she’ll go back to work as long as her name doesn’t appear on the same-sex marriage certificates signed by her deputies — to be a potentially reasonable one.

    It’s less problematic but it’s still unreasonable and discriminatory.

    An elected official refusing to sign marriage certificates based on sexual orientation isn’t reasonable at all. It’s pretty close to separate but equal.

  7. Chiroptera says

    screechymonkey, #6: I actually find her latest position — that she’ll go back to work as long as her name doesn’t appear on the same-sex marriage certificates signed by her deputies — to be a potentially reasonable one.

    I don’t. All her signature does is indicate that, as county clerk, she certifies that the applicants for the license meet the legal requirements in the State of Kentucky to be married. That cannot be against her religious principles.

    If it is, then what is against her religious principles is that she is enabling gay people to marry each other by not gratuitously putting up an obstacle. And, in that case, it doesn’t matter whether her name is on the form or not.

    Davis may see it differently, but in that case she is mistaken as to what her signature means.

  8. oualawouzou says

    I’d rather we refrain from ascribing motives to her at this point. Have people did incredibly bigoted things for the purpose of fleecing the conservative public? Absolutely. Have people did incredibly bigoted things for the purpose of promoting their own brand of religiosity? Absolutely. I don’t see how we can categorically put her in one or the other category at this point. Even the funding pages do not convince me: if she took the decision to stop issuing licenses because of religious motives, it certainly wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision, and she very well may have made “contingency plans” for when she’d inevitably get sued.

  9. screechymonkey says

    Saad @7 and Chiroptera @8,

    My goal is not to get her, personally, to behave reasonably. I think most religious beliefs are unreasonable. But I still support making reasonable accommodations to religious belief where it’s feasible.

    As long she isn’t able to use the power of the State of Kentucky to discriminating against applicants, then I don’t care if her position is unreasonable in the abstract, or whose signature is on the certificate. Assuming, of course, that a marriage certificate signed by a deputy clerk has the same legal force and effect, and applicants aren’t put to any extra expense or effort (“sorry, you’ll have to come back next Tuesday between 2 and 2:30 when the regular clerk takes her monthly let-deputy-help-the-gays-get-married break”).

    Basically, no harm, no foul.

    Also, as a practical matter, I suspect that, if clerks like Davis aren’t able to use their power to hassle same-sex couples, and can’t get media attention for being brave little martyrs (because they’re offered these simple workarounds), then we’ll see fewer and fewer of these objections. So not only do I not particularly care if a few Davises engage in these futile acts of grandstanding (same-sex couples use Form 1653-A instead of Form 1653, which differs only in omitting the clerk’s name, and has no effect on anyone other than Davis), I suspect that in reality few will even bother.

  10. Numenaster says

    Kim Davis has said why she wasn’t issuing licenses to anyone: it’s so she could not be accused of discriminating against gay license applicants. NPR mentioned this in every story on the subject all last week–it’s not exactly been hidden information.

  11. Saad says

    Former Arkansas governor, 2016 presidential hopeful, and homophobic theocrat Mike Huckabee’s petition to Obama and Loretta Lynch makes me laugh very loudly indeed:

    Dear President Obama & Attorney General Lynch:

    You must immediately end this government’s criminalization of Christianity. It is unconscionable that someone in this country would spend almost one week in jail for peaceably practicing their faith. Exercising Religious Liberty should never be a crime in America. This is a direct attack on our God-given, constitutional rights.

    “Peaceably practicing their faith…”

  12. lorn says

    I’m absolutely sure that this will all get straightened out and everything will return to a a quite functional normal now that Ted Cruz, always a pillar of sober seriousness and advocate for good government, has inserted himself into the conflict and met personally with Davis …

    It is going to be a philosophical, legal, and intellectual train wreck of epic proportions with every aspect and nuance played out for maximum duration and optimized for propaganda impact. It is going to be the political version of that fabulous snuff film, Passion of the Christ. A study in pornographic suffering played out with every drop of sweat and twitch of the flesh lavishly rendered in living color with multiple slow-motion cameras rolling from different angles. This pornographic offering will be force fed to the public endlessly. Without mercy or restraint … for fourteen months.

    Assuming they don’t have a more lurid spectacle to flog your brain and eyes with.

    Mark my words, before this election cycle is over people will be gouging their own eyes out with spoons.

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