03 September 2015
Judge not, lest ye go to jail
Who was more lenient? The plaintiffs suing the Rowan County (KY) Clerk for contempt, who asked that she be fined rather than jailed, or the judge who ruled today that Kim Davis should go to jail? The fine might seem more lenient, but if it plaintiffs meant it to be so burdensome that Davis would feel compelled to resign, the time in jail, with no monetary penalty necessarily attached, and no threat (as far as I know) to her remaining in her elected office, probably looked more attractive to the embattled Clerk, a Christianist homophobe who has refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples on the assumption that "the authority of God" overrides the U.S. Supreme Court. Going to jail is certainly more dramatic, which will help her inevitable "as told to" book. She might even get a movie made with this sort of drama in her story. Thrice-divorced woman gets born again and becomes a brave defender of the divine sanctity of marriage in the face of secular humanist pervert persecution -- I think there's an audience for that sort of thing. Meanwhile, state law says she can only be removed from office through impeachment and conviction by the state legislature, and I wouldn't hold my breath for that. It's more likely that she'll resign, once out of prison, to take advantage of her new celebrity. Whatever she does, her case ought to be a teaching moment for everybody. What I hope people learn is that Davis is not legally (not to mention morally) equivalent to those private businesspeople who claim a religious exemption from demands for service from potential customers they find objectionable on religious grounds. It is one thing, and odious enough, to refuse service to gays due to superstitious intolerance, but it would be another if that legendary homophobic baker attempted to prevent the gay wedding from taking place at all. That's what Davis has been doing. To put it a different way, it's one thing to opt out, as homophobic businesses apparently may do, and another to obstruct citizens in the exercise of their rights, as Davis has done. It's one thing to refuse to obey an order you deem immoral, and another to frag your superior officer; doing the latter crosses the line at a necessary cost. The only ethical thing Davis and other obstructionists can do in the face of the Supreme Court's decision is resign their offices; anything more is less an assertion of their own rights of conscience than a violation of other people's rights. To borrow some old phraseology, your conscience ends where another person's rights begin, or else you're waging revolution against the prevailing legal and social order, and presumably accepting the risks that come with that. Not that there's much risk in this case, with Davis's fame assured and probably immune to shame. We can only hope to make her a byword in civilized circles for reactionary bigotry, the modern equivalent of George Wallace at the schoolhouse door. And when her defenders, including the despicable Mike Huckabee, assert the authority of God, we can answer that when the word of God conflicts with the Constitution of the United States, God's word is not law, but lawlessness.