Kim Davis does not believe in the separation of church and state. I think that is a pretty safe statement. The County Clerk of Moran County in Kentucky refused to issue a marriage license to a gay couple. She cited her religious belief that homosexuality was a sin to justify her decision. The couple sued and won in court, but despite the judge’s decision, she adamantly refused to comply with the ruling and was sentenced to jail.
The judge gave her an escape route. The clerks who work for her could issue all the licenses to gay couples. She would have none of it. The licenses would still require her signature, and she refused to provide it. So she spent five days in jail before she and the judge worked out a compromise. Her clerks could issue the licenses which would include a notation that they were issued without her signature. Adamant to the end, she questioned whether the licenses were valid with that notation.
There is not much doubt that she is wrong from a legal perspective. Her job includes the issuance of marriage licenses. By refusing to supply licenses to gays who are otherwise qualified, she was restricting their rights as citizens. But as an elected official, she could not be fired, and her actions did not meet the test for impeachment. So the only way she could be removed from office was through the recall process, and the largely Christian population in Rowan County would probably support her. So the only recourse was through the courts. The Religious Right is having a field day demonizing the Christian-hating liberal left, while the Progressive side is demonizing Davis and her supporters as defiers of the rule of law and the Constitution.
No matter how angry we are, this kind of confrontation is not going to solve any problems. In fact, it will only intensify the growing divide in this country over religion and its influence on government and the political process.
There has to be a better way. Progressives will not win this war by escalating it. We need to take another approach, and it must begin by ending the demonization of Davis and people like her. There is no reason to believe that she has any motivation beyond her professed religious belief. If that belief is sincere, she is suffering from tremendous stress, and we should sympathize with her. She’s in a tough spot.
Let me be clear. I am not suggesting that Progressives should back off from their position opposing people who claim that their religious freedom is being attacked when they are unable to impose their beliefs and limit the freedom of others. But opposition to her should be based solely on facts, logic and the law, and we should respect her, even if we do not agree with her.
Now this will be really hard to do because the Bible thumpers will not stop their vituperative attacks. We must not let ourselves be provoked into descending to their level.
There are several reasons why we should do this. First, if we want to solve the problem, we have to get past the inflammatory rhetoric and seek some reasonable compromises and workarounds. Second, if our goal is to enlist the moderates in their camp, we are unlikely to be successful by engaging in name-calling contests. When we are seen as the ones trying to solve the problem, we will stand a better chance of bringing them around to our point of view. But the third reason is the most important: We need to raise the level of the discussion so that we can begin a dialogue to remove or at least lessen the abrasive effect that religious controversy is having on our nation.
So, my advice is to remember the children’s rhyme and ignore the insults.
“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”
And then continue to hammer them with logical and reasonable arguments showing that they are wrong. Even if they stonewall efforts to reach any accommodation, just lowering the temperature of the dialogue will be a positive result that should win some friends among the fence-sitters and moderates on their side. This is going to be a long, slow process, and we need to get started on it.