THE BLOG
08/28/2015 10:22 am ET Updated Aug 28, 2016

How a Kentucky Clerk Became an Ultimate Symbol of Bigotry

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Kentucky clerk who has received international attention for defying the U.S. Supreme Court, is still refusing to grant marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples today, more than two months after the high court's historic ruling in Obergefell.

This, even after the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld a lower court ruling denying Davis a stay as she fights gay couples suing her for marriage licenses, claiming she has the right to deny them -- as a public servant -- based on her religious beliefs. Defying the appeals court order, she and her attorneys at the Liberty Counsel -- the anti-gay legal group affiliated with the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University -- are instead appealing to the Supreme Court, where they are likely to lose as well.

No matter. Davis is going down as a martyr to the cause, having galvanized bigots and religious extremists across Kentucky and across the country, claiming that their religious freedom has been infringed upon by the Supreme Court's ruling. Thousands turned out for a rally in the Kentucky capital, Frankfort, last weekend, expressing their support for Davis and against homosexuality. They clutched bibles and waved hateful signs condemning homosexuality. "An illustrated poster with the words 'first the baker, then the clerk, next the pastors' was plastered to a Capitol wall," reported the Daily Independent.

Casey County Clerk Casey Davis (no relation to Kim Davis) has been on a bike ride across the state in support of the Rowan County clerk, doing interviews along the way and saying he is ready to "die" for the cause of discrimination.

"It's a war on Christianity," he said in one radio interview. "If it takes it, I will go to jail over -- if it takes my life, I will die for because I believe I owe that to the people that fought so I can have the freedom that I have, I owe that to them today, and you do, we all do."

If the Supreme Court denies Kim Davis's stay the ball is back in a federal judge's court. Because she is an elected official, only the legislature can remove her in an impeachment, which no one expects to happen. But Daniel J. Canon, one of the attorneys for the couples who filed suit to get their marriage licenses, told me that "she could be removed if she were criminally prosecuted for something," which would mean the judge finding her in contempt of his order and possibly even sending her to jail (as unlikely as that might be).

That is exactly what Davis -- and the Republican Party -- would relish. At the rally over the weekend, Matt Bevin, a Republican running for the Kentucky governorship, cheered the crowd on, telling them that "religious liberties are being oppressed," and clearly seeing the issue as a great one for his campaign.

And that is true of the GOP presidential candidates, desperate to find issues to galvanize religious conservatives. "Religious liberty" is a term Jeb Bush has invoked several times in the context of gay rights, and Ted Cruz has been stoking the issue for months, claiming Christians are under attack. As I've written in weeks past, it's clear that the issue is being carefully developed by GOP leaders in Congress as a campaign issue to energize evangelical voters. A bill introduced by Republicans in the House and the Senate earlier in the year, the First Amendment Defense Act, proposes, among other things, to exempt people like Kim Davis from issuing marriage licenses if it conflicts with their religious beliefs.

Davis will lose her battle in coming days. But GOP leaders in Washington and across the country, heading into a political campaign, will take that as a win.

Michelangelo Signorile's new book, It's Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality, is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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