Civil and Human Rights

Kim Davis Doesn’t Get to Rewrite the Law

Back in 2004, my partner and I drove from our home in Virginia to Toronto, Canada, in order to get married. As a lesbian couple, there was no place in our own country where we could marry, and, having been together for 26 years, we were tired of waiting for there to be one. So off we went to our neighbor to the north, which was far ahead of America in recognizing marriage equality.


When we got to City Hall in Toronto and applied for our marriage license, what struck me — apart from the sheer joy of being able to get one — was how matter-of-fact it all was. Fill out the application, hand it to the clerk, get the license. As far as the clerk was concerned, we were just any other couple in line that day. Lesbians? Who cares. Next!


And that’s how it should be for same-sex couples anywhere in the United States now, given the Supreme Court’s ruling this past June in Obergefell v. Hodges that no state may deny same-sex couples the freedom to marry. For the most part, that seems to be how things are working. But not in Rowan County, Kentucky, where County Clerk Kim Davis, citing her religious opposition to the marriage of same-sex couples, has defied the law and refused to issue marriage licenses to such couples.


Davis’s job as the County Clerk, however, does not allow her that discretion — if two people are legally eligible to get married, she’s required to give them a license. Davis does not have the right to re-define eligibility however she sees fit. Not surprisingly, a federal judge — David Bunning, a George W. Bush appointee — ordered Davis to issue the licenses. The court of appeals, and the Supreme Court, turned down Davis’s request to stay Judge Bunning’s order. Nonetheless, Davis defied that order, claiming that her religious beliefs give her the right not to follow the law or obey the court.


Conservative extremists have rushed to Davis’s defense. On Thursday, for example, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee reiterated his astonishing post-Obergefell claim that the Supreme Court’s ruling was just an “opinion” that did not have to be followed, and that it was “judicial tyranny.”


Davis and her supporters, whether out of ignorance or willfulness, have completely distorted the Constitution. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and, in our system of government, the Supreme Court has the final say as to what the Constitution means. This is just basic civics. Davis may disagree with the ruling in a particular case, but as a public official, she is not free to allow her personal disagreement, whether religiously based or not, to determine whether she complies with it. We would have utter chaos in this country if it were otherwise. Simply put, it is Davis’s obligation as a public official to abide by the ruling in Obergefell and the order of the federal court that she issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. That is how this country works.


On Thursday, Judge Bunning sent Davis to jail for contempt. As the Judge explained, the court could not “condone the willful disobedience of its lawfully issued order.”


After Obergefell, same-sex couples in Rowan County should have been able to walk into the Clerk’s office and come away with a marriage license, without any hassle. Davis’s actions have deprived such couples of their constitutional rights. And that’s well beyond a hassle, it’s a violation of the rule of law.

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