I suspect Matt Bevin, the Republican candidate for governor of Kentucky, sees Kim Davis as a twofer.
That’s ditto for state Sen. Whitney Westerfield, the GOP’s attorney general nominee.
Davis is the Democratic Rowan County clerk who just got out of the clink, where she did a short stretch for defying a federal judge’s order to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
Bevin was on hand when she was sprung. So was a pair of GOP presidential hopefuls: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and Religious Right star. Huckabee emceed a rally for Davis.
Bevin and Westerfield have hitched their wagons to Davis’s star, doubtless figuring they can make a wagon load of political hay off her in the Bible Belt Bluegrass State. Second, by championing a Democrat—make that “Democrat”—they can proclaim themselves bipartisan. (Cruz and Huckabee see Davis as a winner for their national campaigns, too.)
Davis is a fundamentalist Protestant who thinks same-sex marriages are “not of God.” She is the newest martyr to Christian conservatives, a lot of whom are Kentucky voters.
Since Davis has hit the hoosegow, Bevin and Westerfield have shifted their pander machines to warp speed.
"I absolutely support her willingness to stand on her First Amendment rights," Bevin declared, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal, the state’s largest newspaper.
Westerfield was quick with a me-too. "All Kentuckians of all faiths should be alarmed by what this means for our safety to express and hold fast to our beliefs," the C-J quoted a Twitter message from the candidate.
The social issues are almost always a trump card in Kentucky politics, though the card sharps aren’t always Republicans. On heaven, heat and homosexuals, some Democratic—sorry, “Democratic”—candidates are nearly indistinguishable from their GOP foes.
Al Cross, the Courier-Journal’s veteran political columnist, isn’t sure the social issues will work for Bevin and Westerfield. “Most Kentuckians, I believe, cherish the rule of law, and that’s why Bevin and Westerfield are not only wrong, but politically wrong,” he wrote.
Cross is often right.
The zeal of bigots like Davis is fueled, at least in part, by their fear of a future that will not be theirs. They fret over an America that has become more tolerant, diverse and pluralistic. Prejudice is on the wane, even in Bible Belt states like Kentucky.
Davis has fans, but she hasn't triggered a popular uprising, at least so far. No other clerk has joined her in the pokey as a “prisoner of conscience.”
Even Davis’ deputies are issuing licenses to gay couples.
Added Cross, who has lived in Kentucky for all of his life: “They [Bevin and Westerfield] may think this is just like the old social issues that have boosted Republicans and hurt Democrats in this state for more than 50 years.”
He named those wedge issues as “school prayer, gun control and abortion.” Gays are also a big bugbear to the Religious Right.
Proposed Cross: “Those issues cut to the core of many Kentuckians’ beliefs and way of life, but I think voters increasingly realize that gay marriage doesn’t really affect them—and that Davis’s defiance isn’t a matter of religious freedom.”
Indeed it’s not. Davis is trying to take a sledgehammer to the constitutional wall of separation between church and state. Self-serving politicians like Bevin and Westerfield are egging her on.
Concluded Cross: “The marriage of gay people doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s rights, or with Christians’ rights to believe that it is wrong. But they do not have the right to impose those beliefs on others, especially with a public office that is a public trust, and if they have sworn an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution. Judge [David L.] Bunning got it right.”
Bunning, by the way, is a Catholic whom President George W. Bush, a Protestant, named to the federal bench. He is also the son of former Kentucky Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning.
Anyway, permit this lifelong Kentuckian to add a Presbyterian “amen” to Cross’s musings.
Don’t get me wrong. I would, to paraphrase Voltaire, defend with all my power Davis’ right to express her views. So, I’m sure, would Cross and Judge Bunning.
Even so, Davis doesn’t have the right to use her elective office to force her opinions on everybody else. She and her supporters are shrieking persecution because a judge did his job and kept her from hijacking the power of government to impose her religion on the citizens of Rowan County.
For the record: atheistic and agnostic government officials don’t have the right to coopt government to push their views either.
Nonetheless, the Protestant, Christian and fundamentalist Bible Belt loops around border state Kentucky, and politicians like Bevin and Westerfield campaign accordingly.
Even so, many Bluegrass State Christians don’t agree with Davis when she insists gay people are “not of God”—and, by implication, hell-bound.
I’m no Bible expert, far from it. But if Jesus Himself said a word about homosexuality in the Good Book, I can’t find it.
I did find where He told Christians to love one another. “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise,” he admonished.
Meanwhile, the zeal of bigots like Davis is fueled, at least in part, by their fear of a future that will not be theirs.
They fret over an America that has become more tolerant, diverse and pluralistic. Prejudice is on the wane, even in Bible Belt states like Kentucky.
Like Cross, I’m a lifelong Kentuckian. To be sure, our home state is a long way from being a bigotry-free zone. But bigotry, racial and ethnic, as well as religious, is turning more people off, especially young people.
Davis aside, a growing number of Christians conclude that it is un-Christian to preach God’s love for everybody on one hand and, on the other, practice hatred for gays, or people of color, or immigrants, or those of other faiths and creeds.
Oh, some Christian fundamentalists insist they don’t hate gays. They vow they only want to save the souls of these “poor sinners” from everlasting perdition by “turning” them straight or at least making them stop their “perversion.”
But it is deeply hateful for Christians to condemn homosexuals to eternal hellfire and damnation for something Jesus didn’t even rebuke in the Good Book.
Still, not all Republicans—not even all conservative Christian Republicans—are Davis fans. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Christian, thinks she should obey the law, as her oath of office requires, or resign.
Davis declares her stand is principled, but there is precedent for stepping down out of principle. I’m thinking about another devoutly Christian Democratic politician, a senator who ran for president three times and was secretary of state in 1914 when World War I broke out in Europe.
The guy was a Protestant fundamentalist. He barnstormed the country denouncing evolution. Also an attorney, he represented the anti-evolution side in one of the most famous trials in American history.
The secretary opposed American entry into World War I. He was a pacifist who took literally the Commandment that said “Thou Shalt not kill” and Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek.
So when in 1915 the secretary feared President Woodrow Wilson might be leading the country into the global conflict—the U.S. didn’t declare war on Germany until 1917—he resigned in protest.
He was William Jennings Bryan.
Kim Davis, you’re no William Jennings Bryan.