The Universal Notebook: Huckabee's hillbilly heroine

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A sorry county clerk from tiny Rowan County, Kentucky (pop. 23,333), is being held up by the religious right as a Christian martyr for going to jail rather than issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

In fact, Kim Davis is the kind of backwards bigot who gives Christianity a bad name.

Grandstanding Republican presidential hopefuls Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz shoved each other out of the way last week in their rush to stand with Davis and her homophobic supporters as she left the local jail. Flanked by Huckabee and lawyer Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, an anti-gay organization listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Foundation, a teary Davis thanked her god and her supporters and vowed never to violate her conscience.

What every reasonably intelligent person in the United States understood, however, is that if doing her duty as county clerk violates her religious convictions, Davis needs to find another job. Her reluctance to do so might have something to do with the fact that she earns about $80,000 a year, more than twice the average income in Rowan County.

Religious conservatives see Davis as a heroine and prisoner of conscience, but religious freedom does not give a public official the right to pick and choose laws to observe and enforce.

Davis’ job simply requires her to certify that people who apply for marriage licenses meet the legal criteria. She does not have to give them her blessing. She does not have to marry them. She just needs to issue a license.

There is an insidious downhill slide in this country toward theocracy and oligarchy, rule by the self-righteous and the rich.

Last year, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court made an unprecedented decision in the Hobby Lobby case that closely held companies can be exempted from generally applicable laws if their owners have religious objections. Hobby Lobby, owned by fundamentalist Christians, objected to covering birth control in it health insurance policies. This is the first time the Supreme Court has ever accorded a corporation religious freedoms.

But Kim Davis is not a closely held corporation. She is an elected public official. She cannot legally refuse to issue marriage licenses on religious grounds any more than she can legally refuse to register someone to vote on religious grounds.

Joe Davis, Kim’s husband, got to the heart of the matter at hand when he told the Associated Press, “I’m an old redneck hillbilly, that’s all I’ve got to say. Don’t come knocking on my door.”

Parading outside the Rowan County Courthouse with a sign reading, “Welcome to Sodom and Gomorrah,” Joe Davis insisted, “She has done her job. Just because five Supreme Court judges make a ruling, it’s not a law.”

Well, yuh, it kind of is. But thank you, Joe, for providing some necessary clarity. Davis’ defiance isn’t about principle, it’s about prejudice. She is prejudiced against gay people. That’s not a religious conviction.

The irony here is that Davis refused to issue a marriage license to a gay couple who have been together for 11 years, which is longer than any of her four marriages to three different men has lasted.

Davis experienced a religious conversion in 2011, so she has the zealot’s blindness to the truth, which is that religious freedom does not give her the right as a public official to violate the civil rights of others. Same-sex marriage is the law of the land, lady. If you can’t issue a marriage license, find a job that doesn’t violate your conscience.

You have to feel sorry for Davis, a sad woman suddenly caught in the national spotlight. But the bigger and more disturbing issue raised by the Rowan County ruckus is that men who want to become president actually think what Davis is doing is legal, moral and acceptable.

Huckabee, spotting a fellow hillbilly, beat the pack to Morehead, Kentucky, and even got one of his campaign staffers to block Ted Cruz from sharing the spotlight. Bobby Jindal and Rand Paul were quick to defend Davis, too. Only Carly Fiorina and Lindsey Graham were of the opinion that Davis needed to resign if she can’t do her job. The rest of the GOP field waffled, recognizing same-sex marriage as the law of the land, but sympathizing with Davis’ dilemma.

Bottom line: Anyone who thinks a public official has a religious right to discriminate against others is unfit to be president of the United States.

To quote Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, “Marriage equality is the law of the land. Officials should be held to their duty to uphold the law. End of story.”

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.