By refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Kim Davis — taken into federal custody Thursday — has gone from being a public servant to a heroine for millions of Americans opposed to the new law of the land.
Republican presidential hopefuls immediately jumped on the bandwagon, capitalizing on the image of an outspoken Christian woman heading to jail as evidence for their narratives of religious persecution.
Until recently, few outside Kentucky’s rural Rowan County had heard of Davis. She has worked for more than 25 years in the office as a deputy to her county clerk mother before being elected in November — without making any waves.
But on Thursday, the Apostolic Christian found herself ordered to jail for contempt of court after she told a judge it was against her religious beliefs to grant licenses to same-sex couples.
“My conscience will not allow me,” she was quoted as saying by ABC News.
Davis was reportedly removed from the courtroom by federal marshals. US District Judge David Bunning said she could be released if she complies with the order to issue marriage licenses, according to ABC.
The 49-year-old clerk had stopped issuing all marriage certificates in mid-August following the Supreme Court’s landmark June 26 ruling legalizing gay marriage.
To her, God lies above all else — including Washington and the laws put in place by the highest court in the land.
The public servant with long hair and a preference for skirts down to her ankles isn’t the only one to have taken such a position.
But Davis has become a symbol for the perennial fight in the United States between modernity and conservatism and between First Amendment rights to freedom of religion and other laws.
– ‘No animosity’ –
Davis says she is not prejudiced, but simply that her faith trumps all.
“I love my Lord and must be obedient to Him and to the Word of God,” she said.
“I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will. To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God’s Word,” she said.
“It is a matter of religious liberty, which is protected under the First Amendment, the Kentucky Constitution, and in the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”
At the heart of the media storm over the matter are also two men, David Moore and David Ermold, who came to Davis’s office over the summer to get married — but were turned away.
The two recorded their attempt in a video that went viral.
Other gay couples — surrounded by a swarm of journalists — also tried their luck with Davis but got the same rejection.
“We are not issuing marriage licenses today,” Davis says in one of the videos posted online.
When asked under whose authority, Davis responds calmly: “Under God’s authority.”
Moore and Ermold, together with another homosexual pair and two heterosexual couples, filed suit.
Federal district and appeals courts ruled against Davis, who subsequently turned to the Supreme Court, which also rejected her stance.
Despite the risk of prison or a heavy fine, Davis refused to back down.
Supporters and detractors gathered in front of the federal court where she had been summoned and subsequently taken into custody, with some telling her to “stay strong” while others cried, “Do your job!”
Critics have also accused her of bigotry and hypocrisy, saying she has been divorced three times, and is married for a fourth time.
– Campaign rallying point –
Davis’s continued refusal inspired a number of Republican presidential candidates who have often painted themselves and fellow US Christians as persecuted by a secular, “politically correct” society.
“Today, for the first time ever, the government arrested a Christian woman for living according to her faith,” said Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister and low-polling fellow White House hopeful, rallied his supporters on Twitter.
“Kim Davis in federal custody removes all doubts about the criminalization of Christianity in this country. We must defend #ReligiousLiberty!”
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul also expressed support for Davis and what they saw as an impingement on her religious freedoms.
Other candidates took a more pragmatic stance.
Davis needs to ask herself “is she prepared to continue to work for the government, be paid by the government, in which case she needs to execute the government’s will, or does she feel so strongly about this that she wants to sever her employment?” former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina said.