Why Conservatives Want the Kim Davis Saga To Be Over

Terrance Heath

Anti-gay Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis has gone back to work, and back to square one. Although she shows no signs of going away, conservatives want Davis’ saga to be over — and soon.

Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Kentucky clerk who went to jail rather than issue — or allow her deputies to issue — marriage licenses to same-sex couples, has returned to work. Despite attempting to claim victory in a statement to reporters, Davis has basically relented in her fight to ensure that her office does not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Davis apparently decided to stand down, and will no longer forbid her deputies to issue the marriage licenses.

While Davis suggested that marriage licenses issued without her authorization may be invalid, the Kentucky governor and attorney general — both likely more knowledgeable than Davis — say the licenses are valid.

Davis also made it sound like her deputies are united behind her, but only her son Nathan stood with her as she addressed reporters. Five of Davis’ deputies stated that they were willing to issue the marriage licenses, but were too afraid of her to do so.

One Davis deputy, Brian Mason, stated publicly that he would continue to issue the marriage licenses after Davis returned to work. Almost as if to prove that point, Mason, issued a marriage license to Shannon and Carmen Wampler-Collins, on Davis’ watch. Neither Davis nor one heckling Davis supporter couldn’t stop it from happening.

The Wampler-Collinses’ marriage license, as well as those issued while Davis sat in jail, show that Davis and her supporters have again failed to stop marriage equality from becoming a reality. Throwing sand in the gears of the implementation of the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision is a desperate, last-ditch attempt to stop by other means what they failed to stop through legitimate means.

Despite what Davis and her attorney believe, the Supreme Court — nominated by a democratically elected president, and approved by a democratically elected Senate — acted well within its constitutional authority in deciding Obergefell. Surveys showed that the majority of Americans were ready for the result, marriage equality for same-sex couples in all 50 states — including Kentucky. More recent surveys show that the majority of Americans believe elected officials like Davis should enforce the law as interpreted by the Court.

  • A Rasmussen Reports poll showed that just 26 percent of likely U.S. voters think an elected official like Davis should be able to ignore a federal court ruling she disagrees with for religious reasons, while 66 percent think the official should carry out the law as the court has interpreted it.
  • A Huffington Post/YouGov poll showed that 56 percent of respondents supported Judge David Bunning’s decision to jail Davis for contempt, and 52 percent said that elected officials should be required to perform the duties of their position even if it conflicted with their religious beliefs, while only 30 percent disagreed.
  • According to a new Washington Post/ABC poll, 63 percent of Americans think Davis should be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Nearly three-quarters — 74 percent — said it’s more important to treat everyone equally than to accommodate someone’s religious beliefs when the two principles conflict — a view which held across majorities of self-identified Democrats, Republicans, liberals, and conservatives.

All three polls contrast with an Associated Press/GfK poll taken in July, just weeks after the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision, showed sharp divisions, with 47 percent of Americans saying that officials with religious objections should be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, while 49 percent saying such officials should be exempt. It’s almost as if Davis has single-handedly shifted public opinion against the right-wing driven “religious freedom” movement.

Maybe that’s why Robert Dreher, writing at The American Conservative, has joined conservative institutions like Fox News and the Heritage Foundation, and individuals like Michael Gerson and George Will, in distancing conservatism from Davis and her cause. In a post titled “Kim Davis Case A Religious Liberty Loser,” Dreher spells out the damage done by Davis’ campaign:

Think of it: most people in this country are (rightly) worried about the future of religious liberty. But if “religious liberty” comes to mean in the public’s mind “the right of elected officials to refuse to obey the law when their conscience tells them not to,” we Christians are going to lose down the road, and we are going to lose big.

The signs are as plain and unavoidable as the billboard that went up along a major thoroughfare in Davis hometown of Morehead, Kentucky — which she very likely drove past on her way to work on Monday. The billboard, erected by Planting Peace, features a picture of a cow and reads: “Dear Kim Davis, the fact that you can’t sell your daughter for three goats and a cow means we’ve already redefined marriage.”

Kim Davis Billboard

Image via Tengrain @ Flickr.

While she probably saw the billboard, Davis may not have seen herself mocked in a new commercial for the Tide To Go stain remover pen, in which a “church lady” type confronts a gay couple outside a church on their wedding day, declares “I won’t let you blemish the sanctity of marriage!”, brandishes a Tide To Go pen, removes a stain from one man’s shirt, and pronounces them “flawless.”

And Davis probably missed the critique directed at her by Miss Mississippi, Hanna Roberts, during the Miss America pageant. “Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis was jailed for defying the Supreme Court’s order to issue same-sex marriage licenses. She claims the order violates her religious freedom. Does it?,” a judge asked. Robert’s delivered a succinct, 20-second takedown of Davis: “It absolutely does not violate her religious freedom. That is her job that she was voted into doing, and that law is a federal law throughout the rest of the country. So, yes, she did violate the law there. Thank you.”

What Davis, whose Liberty Counsel lawyer Matt Staver continues to file lawsuits on her behalf, doesn’t see is what conservatives like Gerson, Dreher, and Will see all too clearly. Since the backlash against Indiana’s “religious freedom” law, both public opinion and the cultural zeitgeist have turned in favor of marriage equality, and against efforts to stop it in the name of “religious freedom.” Kim Davis, by becoming the face of a movement so closely tied to mainstream conservatism, helped turn those tides against the “religious freedom” movement, and threatens to turn them against conservatism itself.

What conservatives attempting to distance themselves from Davis forget is that the seeds for her crusade were planted by the Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, which conservatives cheered just a few short years ago. Conservatives now distancing themselves from Davis are like mad scientists from old-fashioned horror movies, running away from the monsters they themselves created.

Get updates in your inbox

Comments