Kim Davis, a county clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky, received national attention when she defied federal law and refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on her religious freedom. As a result, she was sued by several couples she denied licenses to and when she was commanded by a judge to issue licenses in accordance with the new laws, she continued to refuse, resulting in Davis being jailed. Her decisions and actions have gained her worldwide attention as she continues to proclaim that being forced to do her job according to the current national law will directly violate the religious rights afforded to her in the United States constitution.
This sample political essay explores the case in detail and explains how Davis’ decision encouraged other localities to follow suit.
Timeline of Kim Davis’ actions and repercussions
Three days after the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26, 2015, decision to legalize marriage equality, Kim Davis, a Rowan County Clerk, refused to issue any marriage licenses. Davis feels that her religious views prohibit her from what she views as endorsing same-sex marriage (“Kim Davis Stands against Gay Marriage”). She refused marriage licenses to all couples who came to the courthouse to obtain one, regardless of the couple’s sexual orientation, on the ground that doing so would be a violation of her religious freedoms. On the 2nd of July, a lawsuit was filed against Rowan County, Kentucky for Davis’ refusal to issue the licenses. The American Civil Liberties Union represented four couples – two opposite-sex couples and two same-sex couples – who were denied marriage licenses in the Rowan County courthouse during Davis’ protest. Later that week, several Kentucky country clerks requested a session of the General Assembly to consider accommodations for clerks who do not want to issue licenses for religious reasons but they are denied by the governor, who cited cost as one of the reasons for his refusal.
Federal court order banning Davis from refusing licenses
After the case was heard by a judge on August 12, 2015, Davis was ordered by the United States District Judge David L. Bunning to issue marriage licenses to same-sex and opposite-sex couples alike, as her job dictates she should. Davis and her lawyers immediately sought to appeal to the Supreme Court to put the order on hold in an attempt to prepare an appeal. On the 27th of August, however, the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals declined her request for a stay and affirmed the original ruling made by Judge Bunning that she must do her job and approve legalized gay marriage (“Kim Davis Stands against Gay Marriage”). Despite the decisions that were handed down, however, Davis continued to refuse to issue licenses and also instructed her deputies to not issue any either.
As a result, she was taken into custody on September 3, 2015, after being found in contempt of court. After spending five days in jail, she was released under the condition that she was not to interfere with her deputies while they issued marriage licenses to all couples as the court demanded. Instead of issuing the licenses as instructed, though, she attempted to come up with an alternative. Davis has removed her name from the licenses; instead of ‘Kim Davis’ listed as the clerk, it says ‘Rowan County’ on all same-sex licenses. Though she feels that this is a suitable option, she continues to refer to those licenses as ‘invalid.’
In response, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyers who represented the four couple who sued the county filed a brief, urging the judge to change the status of the lawsuit to ‘class-action’. Mentioning the changes Davis made to the marriage licenses, they wrote:
“These altercations call into question the validity of the marriage licenses issued, create an unconstitutional two-tier system of marriage licenses issues in Kentucky and do not comply with this court’s September 3 order prohibiting Davis from interfering with the issuance of marriage licenses.” (Ellis and Ly 2015).
There has not yet been a response from the judge on the matter, but the situation is very clearly not far from over.
Davis claims order was a violation of her religious rights?
Kim Davis has cited her First Amendment religious beliefs, found in the Bill of Rights, for her decision to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite multiple rulings that she must do so. She feels that to sign the marriage licenses for same-sex couples would violate her religious beliefs as a Christian and would mean that she supports marriage equality, saying:
“If I say they are authorized, I’m saying I agree with it, and I can’t.” (Wong, 20215).
Her lawyers argue that not being able to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples will be a major violation of the religious rights that Davis is entitled to as an American citizen under the First Amendment of the constitution. In a statement, they team said:
“The court of appeals did not provide any religious accommodation rights to individuals, which makes little sense because at the end of the day, it’s individuals that are carrying out the act of the office. They don’t lose their individual constitutional right just because they are employed in a public office.” (Galofaro 2015).
Her lawyers believe that Davis should be exempt from following the law because of her religious beliefs and that she should be allowed to deny marriage licenses while citing her religion as grounds. Many are viewing her jailing as religious prosecution and have come to see Davis as a martyr for Christianity and religious freedom.
Religious freedom fight encourages others
Davis has inspired others who oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage across the country. Social conservatives have supported Davis’ decisions and Republican legislatures have been promoting agendas that they say would defend the religious rights of government officials who feel their religion opposes such unions. They seek to make amendments to the law that would allow them to do their jobs differently than other would be required to. People all over the country have been outspoken in their support of Davis’ decision to continue to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The Liberty Counsel argued in July to the Alabama Supreme Court that they simply did not have to comply with the decision to legalize same-sex marriage, noting a Supreme Court case in Wisconsin in 1857 in which the court refused to follow the high court’s decision to go against the Dred Scott decision.
Many feel that courts should just continue to deny the right to marry to same-sex couples despite any rulings handed down by the Supreme Court or opinions it violates gay rights. By the middle of August, eleven Alabama counties across the state were refusing to issue marriage licenses to all couples, regardless of their sexual orientation, in both protests of marriage quality and in support of Kim Davis. Mat Staver, one of Davis’ lawyers and founder of the Liberty Counsel, said that the Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage was forcing government employees to promote and agree with homosexuality. He included:
“Kim Davis is an example of that, in that she’s being asked to put her name on a license that is directly against her religious convictions.” (Blinder and Fausset 2015).
While several county clerks throughout the country have attempted to follow in Davis’ example, the vast majority of them have been instructed to do their jobs in accordance with the new laws or to resign from their positions.
Davis causes a national backlash
Despite the support she has received from the religious right wing, Davis has also received an incredible amount of backlash for her actions. Thousands have cried for Davis’ resignation (though she has said that she has no intention of doing so), including one of the plaintiffs, Jody Fernandez, who is part of one of the heterosexual couples who are denied marriage licenses in protest of the Supreme Court’s decision. Fernandez said:
“We just didn’t understand why we should have to drive to another courthouse because she was not doing her job. If she cannot do her job, then she should not be working there.” (Wong 2015).
The legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, William Sharp, believes that the injustice is clear; in a written statement, he said:
“Religious liberty certainly does not allow public officials to deny government services to the public based on their personal beliefs. All that Davis is required to do in her official capacity as clerk is issue a form. In no way is she being forced to endorse anyone’s marriage or beliefs.” (Galofaro 2015).
He argued that by signing the marriage licenses, Davis was in no way being forced to compromise her religious beliefs; she was not being forced to participate in or support legalized same-sex marriage, she is simply being asked to do the job she was elected to do. It is widely believed that if Davis cannot do her job the way she is required to do it, then she no longer deserves to hold the position of county clerk. The government cannot cease running because someone wants to propagate their religious views. Still, though, Davis’ team of lawyers asserts that by signing the marriage licenses, her religious freedoms are being taken away. Rather than being about following the law, they feel that the case is about the plaintiffs attempting to force Davis to approve of their religious beliefs, to which one of them responded:
“It’s not like we heard that three counties over a county clerk wasn’t issuing marriage licenses. We live here; we work in this county; we pay our taxes here.” (Wong 2015).
If these couples pay their taxes and contribute to society, they have the right to be issued a marriage license from the county clerk. Activist, writer, and actor George Takei wrote in an article for The Daily Beast that Davis believes her religious rights are being violated because she does not fully understand them. Takei points out that when dealing with the First Amendment, there are two clauses that must consider, rather than the one that Davis is using to excuse herself from following the law. The first, and most often cited, is the Freedom to Worship clause, which means that the government cannot pass a law or take any action that prohibits the free exercise of religion; they cannot stop anyone from worshiping who they want (Takei 2015).
Kim Davis feels that by being made to sign same-sex marriage licenses, her right to worship God has been trodden upon. However, the second, less-understood clause of the First Amendment that must be taken into account is that the government cannot aid or assist any religion or religious philosophy over others. This means that the government cannot attempt to further the agenda of any religion, which would be the exact opposite of ‘freedom of religion’. As a government employee, Davis cannot impose her religious beliefs on anybody, especially not when she uses her government job to do so (Takei 2015). While she is free to believe what she wants, she cannot insist that other put her god’s law above the civil law; she has the right to follow whatever religion she wants, but so does everyone else. Also, refusing to obey a judge’s order is called contempt of court, a criminal offense in any system.
Understanding Kim Davis and her refusal to issue marriage licenses to gay couples
The saga of Kim Davis and her stance against same-sex marriage is widely argued and scrutinized. While many feel that Davis’ religious freedoms are being violated, just as many others feel that Davis using her position to impose her religious beliefs on others is a violation of the religious rights of those she imposes them on. As the case continues to unfold with Davis’ continued refusal to issue marriage licenses as dictated by the Supreme Court, society continues to discuss the role that religion can play in government, if any. The discussion on the true reach of religious freedom and its relationship with government enthusiastically continues.
“Kentucky Clerk Sued for Not Issuing Same-sex Marriage Licenses.” Fox News. FOX News Network, 03 July 2015. Web. 18 Sept. 2015.
“Kim Davis Stands Against Gay Marriage.” The Courier-Journal. Www.courierjournal.com, 3 Sept. 2015. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.
Blinder and Faussett. “Kentucky Clerk Who Said ‘No’ to Gay Couple Won’t Be Alone in Court.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 02 Sept. 2015. Web. 16 Sept. 2015.
Ellisa, Ralph and Laura Ly. “Kim Davis may have invalidated marriage license forms, deputy clerk says.” CNN. Cable News Network, 19 Sept. 2015. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.
Galofaro, Claire. “Rowan County Clerk Loses Appeal.” U.S. News. U.S. News and World Report LP, 27 Aug. 2015. Web. 15 Sept. 2015.
Takei, George. “George Takei on How Kim Davis Violated the First Amendment”. The Daily Beast. The Daily Beast Company LLC, 14 Sept. 2015. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.
Wong, Curtis M. “Kentucky Clerk Says She ‘Prayed And Fasted’ Before Deciding To Stop Issuing Marriage Licenses.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc., 22 July 2015. Web. 16 Sept. 2015.