Kim Davis shows tension between religious liberty and gay marriage.
Rowan County, Ky., is a lesson for America in how not to resolve social conflict. The local head clerk is sitting in jail, and a judge has ordered her deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in her absence.
When the Supreme Court redefined marriage for the nation in an activist decision this June, it took the issue out of the democratic process and made it much harder for citizens to navigate our differences on this fundamental institution. Both sides of the debate knew the decision would have significant social effects. For civil servants like clerks who issue marriage licenses, the implications were also immediately personal.
Rowan County clerk Kim Davis could not, as a matter of religious conviction, issue same-sex marriage licenses. Davis’ further dilemma is the fact that her name is attached to every county marriage license, and she believes issuing them to same-sex couples would constitute precisely the kind of endorsement of same-sex unions her faith forbids. Because of that, her office stopped issuing all marriage licenses after the Supreme Court decision.
A lawsuit followed and a federal court on August 12 ordered her to issue licenses despite her faith-based objections. She did not comply with the order, and at a hearing Thursday the judge sent Davis to jail for contempt of court, even though the plaintiffs had specifically asked she be given fines instead of jail time. The judge ordered the deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses or also face contempt of court and five out of six said they would comply. Meanwhile, the judge has told Davis she will stay in jail because she will not comply with his orders.