Kim Davis – The Wannabe Martyr of Lost America

The 21st century has seen equal marriage spread across the world, surely but not that slowly. In fewer than ten years, countries ranging from Britain and Iceland to Argentina and South Africa have all written equality into the law. However, even the most optimistic of optimists would have been justified in assuming that the United States would be a tougher nut to crack. State-specific debates often hit brick walls, and legislators were ping-ponged between an increasingly accepting public and a very visible (not to mention very political mobile) conservative right. June 26th came as a pleasant surprise, then. Having barely even hinted to the rest of the world that they were voting on the issue, the Supreme Court suddenly deemed equal marriage legal. All bans became unconstitutional and same-sex couples nationwide were free to marry, just like that.

Funnily enough, the Four Horsemen didn’t descend from the skies and there were no plagues of locusts. Life carried on, essentially the same as before, but just that little bit fairer. The once-vocal ultra conservatives, perhaps stunned into silence, were notable by their absence, and objections rarely stretched beyond the usual white noise bigotry of Fox News.  

In Kim Davis, the ‘traditional marriage’ camp has found its very own drab-faced, dank-haired poster girlIt perhaps isn’t surprising, then, that those most opposed to equal marriage have now mobilised themselves around a single case; one individual fight which, to their minds, represents the very worst of the injustice they have been dealt. In Kim Davis, the ‘traditional marriage’ camp has found its very own drab-faced, dank-haired poster girl.

A clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky, Davis was jailed for six days after refusing to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples. She claimed that her faith forbade her to do so. It’s a knotty issue in some regards - just as no church or temple should be forced to conduct same-sex marriages, Davis is under no obligation to partake in a practice she doesn’t agree with. For as long she remains a clerk, though, she is obliged to follow the letter of the law, and same-sex marriage is now part of the law whether she likes it or not.

For what it’s worth, I believe that Christianity and homosexuality are totally compatible, but let’s assume for a moment that they’re not. Let’s also ignore Davis’ three divorces and assume that she is in fact a paragon of matrimonial virtue. Even then, she’s still sorely lacking in the ‘leg to stand on’ department. Whatever her personal beliefs may be, she has no place as a state official to impose them upon others. Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and other Republican candidates may have swarmed around her like flies like the proverbial, praising her for standing up for her right to religious freedom. Kim Davis’ actions don’t constitute standing up for her rights, though. They constitute an attempt to suppress the rights of others.

The ultra-conservative right, with its fetish for freedom, faith and flag, can easily lapse into victim mode. You need only listen to Cruz, Huckabee et al as they describe their ‘Lost America’. In Lost America, good ol’ God-fearing folk are under siege. It is an America where minorities, far from simply seeking equality, are actively turning Christians into second class citizens. In Lost America, one interpretation of one religion ought to take precedence over all else, and acts of prejudice are transformed into acts of religious liberty.

With her arms spread wide upon release, lapping up the fervent applause, it’s clear that Kim Davis is happy to be a martyrOf course, Cruz and Huckabee are not actually living in Lost America. They’re living in what most would consider a better America, one where God isn’t a trump card who renders any opposing beliefs invalid. Contrary to popular opinion, they aren’t even living in an inherently Christian America. Its laws and institutions were always intended to be secular – George Washington once wrote ‘the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion’, and ‘One Nation Under God’ was only added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954.

Nevertheless, the pull of Lost America is strong. While Davis was actually jailed for being in contempt of court, claiming that she was effectively jailed for being a Christian is an evocative version of events. With her arms spread wide upon release, lapping up the fervent applause, it’s clear that Kim Davis is happy to be a martyr. Progressive America has a responsibility, therefore, to ensure that this myth doesn’t take root. Kim Davis is no Rosa Parks, and she hasn’t been punished into conforming to some liberal agenda. She has simply been held to account by a principle which is crucial in all modern, diverse societies - the principle that, while citizens are free to believe whatever they want, nobody has a God-given right to discriminate.

Davis is due to arrive back at her office today. She hasn’t confirmed whether she’ll maintain her defiant stance, beyond saying that she would not ‘violate her conscience’. If she once again refuses to issue same-sex marriage licences, we’ll return to square one and Davis will most likely return to a prison cell. Given the strength of her conviction, this whole debacle could rumble on for months. Let’s just hope that, in that time, all those who support genuine freedom and equality can muster a similar level of resilience.

More about the author

About the author

Harry Mason likes to call himself a freelance writer, even if his tax forms say he's technically a waiter. He graduated last year from the University of East Anglia, and writes predominantly about social politics and film. He looks forward to the day when he's able to grow a beard; until then, you'll just have to blame his so-called 'bleeding heart lefty views' on youthful naivety.

Follow Harry on Twitter.

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