Kim Davis never thought her life would turn in this direction. The fifty-year-old mother of two had been long-time deputy clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky when last year she decided to run for the office of clerk. She was elected and assumed her new position earlier this year. Then all heck broke loose.
When the United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in June Davis was faced with a crisis of conscience. As a conservative and devout Christian she couldn’t condone the Supreme Court’s decision. On the other hand, her responsibility as county clerk was to issue marriage licenses, a responsibility that now included same-sex couples.
Davis then made the decision that thrust her into the national spotlight, not just regarding her immediate situation but on a broader scale the legal status of many other Christians who find themselves also at odds with the government because of their religious convictions. Davis chose her faith over her legal duties and refused to sign the marriage licenses of several same-sex couples.
The couples filed suit and after preliminary hearings in which Davis made it clear that she could not in good conscience do what the law required, federal district judge David Bunning on September 3 found Davis in contempt of court. Her remarks in the days during the hearings revealed not only her dilemma but also Judge Bunning’s—how does the government negotiate the boundary between religious conviction and civil disobedience? Davis said:
I never imagined a day like this would come, where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage. To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision. For me it is a decision of obedience. I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will. To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God’s Word.
Judge Bunning quickly decided the issue of conscience. He remanded Davis to federal Marshalls who took her to jail. In today’s America, religious conscience is less a constitutional guarantee than it is an inconvenience to the state.
And here’s where things got off track—especially from the secular media. Kim Davis was labeled a bigot and a fool. Even the Washington Post’s Michael Gerson—a conservative Christian—jumped on the bandwagon and got it exactly wrong. Echoing the Progressive party line Gerson said this week that
…there is no serious case to be made for the right of public officials to break laws they don’t agree with, even for religious reasons. This is, in essence, seizing power from our system of laws and courts. The proper manner to change the law, in this instance, is to work for the election of a president who will appoint Supreme Court justices with a different view and for the election of senators who will confirm such justices. Or to propose and pass a constitutional amendment. Davis may be impatient with this system, but it is the one we have. Personally assuming the role in Rowan County, Ky., of a Supreme Court majority is not an option. The available alternatives are to implement the law (as public servants across red America have overwhelmingly done) or to resign in protest (as some have done as well).
In other words, Davis should have put her religious convictions on hold and done what the government instructed her to do.
I wonder if Gerson felt the same way when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome, in 2004, instructed his courts to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses in clear—and very public—opposition to California law at the time which strictly prohibited same-sex marriage?
I wonder if Gerson felt the same way when last year, Jack Conway, Kentucky’s attorney general, refused to defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, claiming that “Once I reached the conclusion that the law was discriminatory, I could no longer defend it. At that point, being true to myself became more important than the political considerations”?
I wonder if Gerson felt that way when then-Attorney General Eric Holder instructed attorneys across the nation that they weren’t to defend state laws banning same-sex marriage if they thought them to be discriminatory?
The fact is that the secular media’s outcry against Kim Davis has less to do with her refusal to do her duty as a public servant than it does her stance against same-sex marriage. The current national mood is that religious people can believe whatever nonsense they want to—at least for now—but any stance against same-sex marriage will be reviled and, when possible, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Just ask the many small-business owners across America who have stood for their religious convictions and lost their livelihoods as a result.
But then on Tuesday of this week Judge Bunning reversed himself and released Davis when most of her deputy clerks pledged to cooperate with his previous ruling. The judge issued a stern warning that the federal government would be keeping an eye on her and set her free. She’s to report to his office every fourteen days to ensure she’s complying with his order. He did not insist–at least not yet–that she go through sensitivity training or some other means of altering her religious beliefs.
We’ll see if Kim Davis will remain free. Like serious Jesus followers everywhere she has a higher calling on her life than that which political figures can bring to bear and she listens to a more compelling voice to guide her decisions than the government. She has begun to understand the cost of discipleship in ways that all of us will soon learn.