Thursday, August 29, 2019

Kim Davis is Being Sued

It couldn't have happened to a more annoying person. Kim Davis, the former county clerk famous for refusing to sign paperwork for same-sex marriages, is being sued. Back before she was voted out, Davis argued that signing civil paperwork for same-sex marriages somehow violated her religious beliefs - even though she was talking about civil, not religious, paperwork that was officially part of her job. Then she engaged in bunch of other obnoxious behavior - suing the state when she was told she had to do her job, insisting that nobody else in her office sign off on the paperwork, and surreptitiously arranging a brief meeting with Pope Francis after which she claimed he supported her position (he didn't).

Davis faces lawsuits from David Ermold, David Moore, Will Smith and James Yates, a pair of same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses during her tenure as Rowan County Clerk. She cited her sincerely held religious beliefs as a reason for refusing to grant the licenses.

Mat Staver, the founder of Liberty Counsel, which previously represented Davis, told Reuters that "at the end of the day, she will ultimately prevail. She had no hostility to anyone, given that she stopped issuing all marriage licenses. The broader issue is what accommodation a court should provide someone based on their religious beliefs. It’s a matter of time before such a case goes squarely before the Supreme Court."

Last year, Davis lost her re-election bid for Rowan County Clerk to a Democratic challenger, Elwood Caudill. Caudill successfully defeated Ermold in the party's primary, with Ermold later accusing Caudill of also being an anti-gay bigot. During the campaign, attention was drawn to a lawsuit Davis had filed against former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, who she claimed violated her religious rights by compelling her to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

"The Commonwealth of Kentucky, acting through Governor Beshear, has deprived Davis of her religious-conscience rights guaranteed by the United States and Kentucky constitutions and laws, by insisting that Davis issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples contrary to her conscience, based on her sincerely held religious beliefs," Davis' lawsuit alleged.

This is an issue that we have to get some clarity around as a society. Poor Oppressed Christians like Davis have this idea that civil law has to conform to their religious beliefs, even when those laws affect people who don't share them. That whole idea is wrong, and contrary to the principles on which our country is founded. Yes, sincere religious beliefs are protected to some extent - but pretty much everybody agrees that religious beliefs don't allow you to break civil laws when they conflict. The Bible may tell us that we're supposed to stone people to death for certain offenses, but if you do that, I guarantee you will be charged and most likely convicted even if you can point to a piece of scripture that told you to do it.

To me, it's confusing to see civil and religious law conflated like David tried to argue. The same people who complain about the separation of church and state argue that churches will be forced to perform same-sex weddings - which is precisely one of the things that the separation of church and state prevents. I always point to the Roman Catholic Church - pretty much forever, the RCC has had more prescriptions on marriage than civil society and even most other churches. But I have yet to see anybody successfully sue the RCC for not allowing a civilly-but-not-religiously divorced person to remarry, for example. The same protections are there for churches that don't want to marry same-sex couples.

So it seems to me that what we need to do is to emphasize and protect the idea that religious beliefs and civil laws are two entirely separate things. That would pretty much deal with all the Poor Oppressed Christian complaints and nefarious Dominionist plotting. The whole point is that the United States does not have an official legal religion, and it never should.

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