When the Kim Davis story began it was presented as a tale about a Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. The media, and we in the audience, spent most of out time following Davis, the person. She was a compelling subject, a compelling target. We discussed her actions, her religion, her marriages. Those clothes! That hair! She’s a mess!
In truth this story was about many things, but it was not about Kim Davis, Kentucky county clerk. Occasionally the spotlight did shift towards the real truths in this tale. But every time it moved – highlighting her legal team, the politics involved in her post-release from prison speech, the machinations that put her in front of the Pope – it always swung back onto Davis herself.
These are the deeper parts of this story that I wish had received more in-depth coverage, parts that I suspect will now never be properly investigated.
Others Doing The Same Thing Went Unnoticed
I’m not about to accuse anyone of worrying about Kim Davis when there are gay men being executed. But there were an awful lot of clickbait “updates” on this story, updates that crowded out other news. Of course, Davis’ backers – the ones standing behind the curtain that nobody bothered to draw back – wanted us focused solely on her. They needed a figurehead for their religious freedom movement. Movements often use people like this – take Rosa Parks, someone Davis’ team wanted us to believe she was like. But just as Rosa Parks wasn’t the first or the only person to demand to sit at the front of the bus, Kim Davis wasn’t the only government official refusing to do their job in relation to marriage equality. She wasn’t even the only clerk in Kentucky refusing to sign marriage licenses, but one of three.
Ballotpedia has a summary of county reactions to the Supreme Court ruling and at the date of writing 14 were resisting, most by choosing not to issue any licenses. Then there were the judges refusing to perform weddings in Alabama, North Carolina and Oregon. Because all the media’s heavy artillery was aimed upon Davis these other people, many doing literally the same thing as her, have been relatively disregarded – not unnoticed but certainly not noticed enough. To the casual observer the Davis seemed to be about one brave soul standing up for their beliefs, when it was about a phalanx of homophobes continuing to treat us the way they had gotten used to. It’s one thing to give a story a focus, it’s another to not tell the full story.
Davis Isn’t Rational
“God’s authority”. That’s what Davis said empowered her to deny marriage licenses to gay couples. Imagine she used that to explain why she drove on the wrong side of the road, didn’t pay her taxes or ate a baby on live television. Saying you are working on “God’s authority” is the kind of thing you hear from the lips of two types; religious extremists and people with mental conditions. Kim Davis is definitely the former and some have speculated she’s also the latter.
Personally, I believe it is inappropriate to make armchair assessments about anyone else’s mental health. Actually, I’m kidding, I’m more than happy to diagnose her and it’s plainly obvious that Davis is a walking untreated disorder of some type. She desperately needs help – actual help, not a helping hand to the nearest TV camera. Politicians and the media make a big noise about how we need to “do better” by people with mental illness but one way not to do better is to treat the person suffering such illnesses like everybody else.
Davis is a Pawn
The Davis story has caused me to feel many emotions – anger at her actions towards the gay couples, bewilderment that an elected official thinks their religion trumps the law, disgust at how the legal process has been used to deny people their equal rights, joy at seeing the couples finally married. But one of the emotions I wasn’t expecting to feel was compassion for Kim Davis herself.
Davis is a perpetrator of injustice, yet she’s also the victim of a manipulative establishment. As I watched her being used by politicians, media and the religious right I felt sad for her. I felt it most strongly following the news of her visit with the Pope. Davis strikes me as misguided, but sincere, as sincere as a delusional person can be. She appeared genuinely excited to have an audience with the Holy Father. I imagine she was shattered when the Vatican threw her under the Popemobile.
“I never sought to be in this position, and I would much rather not have been placed in this position.” That’s what Davis said in her first official statement. Yes, you might say, she chose to do what she did, but did she have any idea that her “position” would see her mocked and demonized all over the world, forever now held up as the pinnacle of homophobia? Did the punishment of worldwide hate directly almost solely at her fit her crime? Especially when there were others doing exactly the same thing who received little or no ire? It’s fine to be a martyr, it’s quite another to be a scapegoat.
This is the First Shot in a Religious War
As societies become more religiously diverse we need a rational discourse about what the right to practice religion free from oppression currently means. We also need to clearly set out the boundaries between religion and law. There were skirmishes over religious freedom before Kim Davis – Fox’s faux War on Christmas, for example – but with Kim Davis the religious right declared war. In choosing to use Davis – someone with the extremist view that religion trumps law – they immediately polarized the debate. There can’t be a rational discourse now. We will all now have to suffer the jingoist shouting that so often accompanies modern politics. And who does best in this environment? Those with extremist views, views like “religion trumps law”.
The religious freedom campaign is going to be a long one but how many of us who were willing to become involved don’t now have the energy to even think about it? How many of just want everyone to shut the fuck up so we can get some sleep?
I’ve tended to use the past tense in this piece, as though Davis’ story was done. In fact, it’s not nearly over. I’ve used the past tense because, for now, I’m done. Exhaustion breeds apathy and I confess, I’m exhausted.
I don’t want to read another story about Davis. I don’t want to read another story about religious freedom. The latter isn’t going anywhere but the former will soon disappear. For a while I will still need to skip over the Davis items clogging up my Facebook newsfeed but only until circumstances require her to be sacrificed, as pawns always are, and those using her move on to a newer, shinier figurehead.
In ONE MILLION DOMS Dominic Sheehan comments about political stuff. Yes, the title is a parody of One Million Moms. No, he does not represent one million Dominics. There probably aren’t one million men called Dominic in the world. Yes, he quite likes that his name isn’t very common. Yes, people constantly spell it D-O-M-I-N-I-Q-U-E. No, he was not named after the song by the Singing Nun.