Rowan County

Hey Lexington Herald-Leader: This one phrase makes me question your impartiality on Kim Davis

Hey Lexington Herald-Leader: This one phrase makes me question your impartiality on Kim Davis

You remember Kim Davis, right?

As a self-described "foul-mouthed moderate" put it on Twitter, "She's that lady who refused to issue gay couples marriage licenses in Kentucky."

More precisely, as GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly notes, "Davis didn’t try to deny license. She just wanted to avoid being the person who had to sign it." 

If somehow her name doesn't ring a bell, we have a post or two — or 3 million — in our archive.

I bring her up because, well, she's back in the headlines again.

The news peg is simple: A gay man who unsuccessfully sought a marriage license from Davis has filed to run against her for Rowan County clerk. 

This is the headline — cue the clickbait — atop the Lexington Herald-Leader's story:

Kim Davis denied him a marriage license. Now he wants to take her job

Eventually, the Herald-Leader story will turn into what approaches an unpaid political advertisement for Davis' challenger, the fourth Democrat so far to enter the race. But up top, the report is straightforward and factual (albeit less than precise on how Davis phrased her position, as tmatt noted):

MOREHEAD — David Ermold, one of the men denied a same-sex marriage license by Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis in 2015, hopes to challenge her for the clerk’s seat next year, he announced Wednesday.
Davis set off an international furor when she denied a marriage license to Ermold and his partner, David Moore, despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the right for same-sex couples to marry.
Davis, who said providing the license violated her religious beliefs, continued to withhold the license, even after a federal judge ordered her to issue it, and was jailed briefly. The issue was solved when one of her deputies, Brian Mason, agreed to issue licenses, and in 2016 the Kentucky General Assembly established an alternate license.
Mason is still issuing same-sex marriage licenses, he said Wednesday.
“I am running to restore the confidence of the people in our clerk’s office and because I believe that the leaders of our community should act with integrity and fairness, and they should put the needs of their constituents first,” said Ermold, 43, who teaches English at the University of Pikeville and directs Morehead Pride, a local gay rights organization. “My commitment to Rowan County is to restore professional leadership, fairness, and responsibility to the clerk’s office. I will build upon the successes of the past, and I will seek solutions for the challenges we may still face.”

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How should Christians holding public office conduct their duties?

How should Christians holding public office conduct their duties?


How ought Christian believers conduct themselves as public office-holders? To what extent should they promote biblical principles in the context of a democratic society? What grounds should they cite? Are some biblical principles too idealistic for a secular society?


Gene posted this fourfold query before Kentucky county clerk Kimberly Davis won headlines by briefly going to jail rather than authorize same-sex marriage licenses that violate her Christian belief. As religious liberty advocates argued, the simple compromise was having others in her office issue licenses.

Religious civil disobedience against laws considered unjust or immoral, with willingness to suffer resulting penalties, has long been honored in the United States, if not elsewhere. The U.S. usually accommodates conscientious objectors, such as those refusing the military draft. Some likened Davis to Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King, but civil rights demonstrators acted as private citizens. An example with public officials might be Catholics handling abortion, which their church staunchly opposes. If liberal Democrats, they often say they’re “personally opposed” but shouldn’t challenge public opinion or court edicts.

Unlike ancient Judaism, or past and present-day Islam, Christianity has always recognized various forms of separation between “church” and “state.” This stems from Jesus’ saying deemed important enough to appear in three Gospels: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” The narrow meaning was to pay taxes due to secular regimes, even despised Roman occupiers. But interpreters think Jesus’ cryptic maxim has far broader applications.  In New Testament times, of course, the tiny, powerless band of Christians didn’t ponder their duties as public officials.

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Washington Post gets crucial Kim Davis compromises into new front-lines report

Washington Post gets crucial Kim Davis compromises into new front-lines report

The latest from Rowan County, Kentucky? Sure, why not.

But before we look at some of the coverage of clerk Kim Davis and her first day back on the job, let's review the primary journalistic point that your GetReligionistas have been making, over and over, about this media circus.

Most of the national coverage, has portrayed this dispute as a clash between two national armies -- with the Religious Right on one side and gay-rights supporters on the other.

We have argued that this is too simplistic and that, to anticipate where the story is going, reporters need to focus on the actual laws in Kentucky and the ground-level efforts to realign them with the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 Obergefell decision to back gay marriage. At the very least, there appear to be four camps involved in this sad circus. 

(1) Cultural conservatives whose primary goal is to reject same-sex marriage.

(2) A coalition of state political leaders -- Democrats and Republicans -- seeking to comply with the Supreme Court ruling and recognize the rights of gay couples who seek marriage licenses. However, these officials and activists also want, in a way consistent with past legal efforts to offer "work around" accomodations for officials caught in conflict-of-interest binds, to recognize the religious-liberty rights of traditional Christians, Jews, Muslims and others who cannot endorse same-sex marriage.

(3) Activists of various kinds who want to defend religious liberty, but who believe Davis has hurt their cause, in the long run, by going to jail rather than either (a) resigning or (b) allowing others to distribute marriage licenses in her name until the state legislature acts to amend state laws in the wake of the Supreme Court decision. (See this earlier Bobby Ross Jr., post.)

(4) Activists on the secular and religious left whose primary goal is to force public officials whose duties touch same-same marriage to either resign or endorse, with their actions, the Obergefell decision.

Every now and then, The Washington Post team has included in its coverage details that point toward this complex four-level drama at the state level -- such as the fact that Davis herself supports compromises that would allow gay marriages to proceed (such as the legislature approving the removal of the clerk's name from the license or allowing couples to seek licenses through other government sources).

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Religious liberty advocates split on Kentucky clerk's stance? Yes, Associated Press reports

Religious liberty advocates split on Kentucky clerk's stance? Yes, Associated Press reports

Tmatt has been all over the lack of media reporting on efforts to forge a Kentucky compromise that would protect the rights of same-sex couples and traditional religious believers.

Along those same lines, much news coverage has failed to reflect the disagreement among many same-sex marriage opponents themselves over the stance taken by Rowan County clerk Kim Davis.

That's why I was pleased to see a weekend story by Associated Press writer Travis Loller highlighting that split among religious liberty advocates.

Loller even quotes Rod "Friend of this Blog" Dreher:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Kentucky clerk Kim Davis has become a hero to many conservative Christians who see her refusal to issue marriage licenses after the Supreme Court effectively legalized same-sex marriage as a litmus test for religious liberty in an increasingly secular culture.
But lost in the uproar are the voices of Christians, some equally conservative, who disagree with Davis' stance and worry that holding her out as a martyr will ultimately hurt the cause of religious liberty.
"I think she's wrong on the merits, wrong theologically and her stance is harmful to Christians both in the religious liberty debate and in trying to present Christianity to the watching world," said Peter Wehner, a Christian commentator who served in the last three Republican presidential administrations.
Many religious conservatives have shifted their focus in recent years from trying to stop the legalization of same-sex marriage to carving out protections for those who object to it on religious grounds. A Washington florist who was fined over her refusal to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding is celebrated by conservative Christian leaders across the U.S. who point to her story as an example of government overreach they fear will only grow.
But Davis' position as a government official has some of those same conservative leaders warning that she may not be the ideal figure to rally around. As Rod Dreher, a senior editor at "The American Conservative," put it in a recent essay, Davis' case is "not the hill to die on." Rather, a line in the sand should be drawn "when they start trying to tell us how to run our own religious institutions - churches, schools, hospitals, and the like - and trying to close them or otherwise destroy them for refusing to accept LGBT ideology."

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A must-read weekend think piece: Trying to find compromise in Kentucky laws

A must-read weekend think piece: Trying to find compromise in Kentucky laws

So, journalists interested in covering the real legal issues at stake in the Kim Davis case, did you read the piece that the editorial pages team at The New York Times -- in a moment of intellectual diversity that is worthy of applause -- ran by Ryan T. Davis on the framework for a compromise that benefits gay couples and traditional religious believers?

It you did not read it, now is the time. Read it all.

Now, this essay is directly linked to the key facts on the ground in Kentucky. While the mainstream press has focused on screaming armies on the cultural left and right, actual legislators in that state -- Democrats and Republicans -- have been trying to get to Democratic governor to call a special session so that they care respond to the 5-4 Obergefell decision at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The centrist goal -- this is the story, folks -- is to find a centrist compromise that give gay couples marriage licenses, with no hassles or penalties of any kind, while also giving traditional Christians, Muslims and Jews the same kind of conflict-of-interest "work around" accommodations as thousands of other public servants on other issues.

That's what this Times op-ed is all about. It is not part of a campaign to deny LGBT people their rights. It is about an effort to promote compromise. Again, one does not have to agree with these liberal and moderate people in the middle to recognize that this effort to craft the ACTUAL LEGISLATION in Kentucky is a key element of the real news story. Right?

So here is a crucial chunk of the Anderson essay. 

Some on the left say that you must do every aspect of your job, despite your beliefs, or resign. But this has never been the practice in the United States. We have a rich history of accommodating conscientious objectors in a variety of settings, including government employees. Do we really want to say that an otherwise competent employee must quit or go to jail if there is another alternative?

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Kim Davis is in WHAT political party? A classic New York Times correction

Kim Davis is in WHAT political party? A classic New York Times correction

So be honest. Did you or did you not see this one coming?

We start with another New York Times report about that Rowan County clerk who sits in jail waiting for the Kentucky legislature to tweak the state's laws to work smoothly with both the 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision backing same-sex marriage and our nation's strong First Amendment history of support for the free exercise of religious convictions.

The story ends with a classic laugh-to-keep-from-crying correction that created some buzz in social media. First, the usual:

The clerk, Kim Davis of Rowan County, Ky., was ordered detained for contempt of court and later rejected a proposal to allow her deputies to process same-sex marriage licenses that could have prompted her release.

Once again, it would help if readers were informed that Kentucky law currently says -- according to the fine details buried in news reports -- that the county clerk's name has to be on a marriage license in order for it to be official. From the perspective of Kim Davis, that fact requires her to actively endorse same-sex unions, even if someone else hands out the licenses.

Thus, she balked. No one needs to agree with her stance in order to accurately report the link between the details of the Kentucky law and her act of conscience. The bottom line: Details of Kentucky laws are still important in Kentucky.

Will the governor, a Democrat, hear the calls of Democrats and Republicans for a special session to change the state's laws to protect the rights of gay couples seeking marriage as well as traditional believers in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc.? That's the story.

Back to the story. Here comes the highly symbolic correction:

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Do many reporters get why Kim Davis is in jail? Hint: Investigate Kentucky laws

Do many reporters get why Kim Davis is in jail? Hint: Investigate Kentucky laws

So Kim Davis is in jail, which is the only place -- under current Kentucky laws, apparently -- she can go without giving her signed consent (hold that thought) to same-sex marriages, which she believes she cannot do because of a theological conflict of interest.

So U.S. District Judge David L. Bunning has done the logical thing and locked her up, because -- under the current Kentucky laws -- there is no other way to obey five members of the U.S. Supreme Court and get marriage licenses to same-sex couples in that state.

Here is a crucial question to which I cannot find an answer: Does Kim Davis, under current Kentucky law, have to put her name on a license to make it valid. I ask because Davis is on record as supporting compromises in which gay citizens could receive marriage licenses without a signature from the local clerk or with the signature of another willing clerk appointed by a judge or the state. As I have stated in previous posts, she is willing for licenses to go out, only she refuses to give her consent. She does not want this taking place under her authority, but under the authority of someone else recognized by the state.

However, there is no law allowing that approach in Kentucky, as opposed to, let's say, North Carolina. Right? If Davis was in a different state, she would have other options. That's an important fact in this standoff.

Let's return to The Washington Post coverage, since that has where I have been following these events most closely. There is much to applaud in the story that went live last night, but there are familiar gaps -- even when compared with earlier Post coverage. Let's read and I'll add some comments:

Davis’s decision means the 49-year-old elected public servant will be kept in custody indefinitely as the legal wrangling over her case continues. It also suggests she is willing to martyr herself for her cause, which is the right of public officials to be guided by their personal religious beliefs.

"Suggests" is never a good word in hard-news coverage.

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Slut-shaming the Christian convert in Kentucky who is open to compromise?

Slut-shaming the Christian convert in Kentucky who is open to compromise?

So The Washington Post has another news report out about the woman of the day, which would be Rowan County clerk Kim Davis in the hills of Kentucky. And, once again, readers who dig into this news feature will find it hard to learn a crucial fact about this embattled Democrat, who converted to Christianity four years ago.

Sorry to repeat myself, but I am going to have to repeat a pair of questions that I asked in my earlier post on this topic. I'm seeing the same gap in the basic facts about Davis and the stand she is taking.

Let's flash back to that:

To spot this gap, ask yourself this question as you read the news coverage on this story in the next few days: Is Ms. Davis trying to stop gay citizens from getting married? Yes or no. In fact, is her primary goal to stop them from getting married in he county?

I have heard for some readers who are saying, "Yes, Davis is trying to stop gay marriages."

At that point I have asked: "Then why is she backing efforts to promote political compromises that would allow gay marriages in Kentucky and in her own county?" If you dig a bit deeper, you'll find out that her primary goal is not to prevent gay marriages, but to prevent these marriages from taking place with her signed consent, in violation of the traditional Christian doctrines on this subject that she embraced four years ago.

The Post piece does offer more information on this woman who is under the gun, but it was silent at crucial points. Here is a crucial passage:

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Washington Post looks at Kentucky same-sex marriage wars, sees only two armies

Washington Post looks at Kentucky same-sex marriage wars, sees only two armies

If you are following the mainstream media coverage of the case of Kim Davis, the elected clerk of Rowan County in Kentucky, then you have basically been reading about a dispute with two sides.

On one side are the gay citizens who want to get married in this county. On the other side is an outspoken Christian who, as an act of Christian conscience, has stopped handing out marriage licenses to anyone, rather than be forced to hand them out to those planning same-sex unions.

The mainstream coverage has been very vivid and full of human details. However, there is an interesting void in the stories that I am seeing in elite media (and let's not even talk about television). To spot this gap, ask yourself this question as you read the news coverage on this story in the next few days: Is Ms. Davis trying to stop gay citizens from getting married? Yes or no. In fact, is her primary goal to stop them from getting married in he county?

Now, let's look at some of the Washington Post coverage, starting with an update filed late in yesterday's news cycle. The following passage gives readers both a status report in the standoff and a look at the drama on the scene:

U.S. District Judge David Bunning has set a hearing for 11 a.m. Thursday to determine whether to hold Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis in contempt, a charge that could carry with it a fine or jail time.
Davis’s decision came on a day of heated protests here. Dozens of supporters -- and critics -- of the county’s elected clerk gathered outside the courthouse, and at times inside the lobby, as gay couples tried, unsuccessfully, to get marriage licenses. After one couple was rebuffed, Davis emerged from a back office to explain that she would not be issuing any licenses.

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