The Passion of Kim Davis
Sept. 4, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — To some extent, I really have to hand it to Kim Davis. It isn’t hard to tell where she stands. She isn’t going to let some court tell her to do her job as a court clerk and issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Her orders come from a higher power. A judge might be able to fine her or put her in jail, but she says she believes an eternity in hell would be waiting for her if she affixed her name to a certificate joining two committed same-sex individuals in holy matrimony. No court can compete with that sentence.
I’d say that, in another context, she might be a hero, but she’s a hero to many as it stands now. Opposing the people protesting her refusal to issue gay marriage licenses is her own herd of supporters singing songs and demonstrating outside of the courthouse. Had the courts condoned the denial of marriage licenses to gay couples and she insisted on doing it anyway because of her beliefs, the same people probably would’ve been in front of the same courthouse saying the same things. The difference would’ve been which side was encouraging lawful behavior and which side wasn’t.
Many who work in the system dream of officials following their consciences when confronted with unjust laws. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to think about Kim Davis each time we hope a judge ignores a mandatory minimum prison sentence or a jury nullifies, as it can cut both ways.
What about the judge who gives an illegally long sentence for a heinous crime? Or the jury that convicts not because it believes the defendant violated the law, but because it believes the defendant has done something worthy of punishment based on its thoughts about the morality of his actions? The warm, fuzzy feeling we get when someone follows their conscience is more a product of its consistency with our beliefs than it is of the importance we attribute to following our consciences.
We can all agree that plenty of our laws are unfair, but what I think is unfair might be different from what you think is unfair. I can claim that I’m right, that my philosophies are somehow more worthy of lawlessness than other philosophies, but for every one of my arguments about how the system is too harsh, there’s going to be someone railing against repeat offenders getting off too easily and cases being thrown out on technicalities. My view of the world seems great to me, but it isn’t everyone’s view.
The idea of an executioner unwilling to do his job because of his beliefs about the constitutionality of the death penalty is inspiring to me, while the jailor who deeply believes in the efficacy of harsh sentences as deterrence and decides to hold inmates well past their expiration dates is disturbing. I want people to agree with me. Only then do I want them to follow their consciences.
People who stick to their beliefs like Kim Davis are uncommon. When they do come along, I’d say we need more of them, except if I’m being honest, I can only say I want more of them who share my values.
Kim Davis has decided that her cause, the thing that makes her refuse to do her job and defy the courts, is refusing to let two people of the same sex have their love and commitment acknowledged by the state. I can’t help but respect her resolve, but her judgment leaves plenty to be desired.
And for refusing to comply with an order of the court to issue marriage licenses, she has been held in contempt. If she truly believes in her cause, then she should be prepared to pay the price.