Kim Davis, the clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, is the Religious Right's latest manufactured martyr. But what are people really telling us when they say "I'm with Kim?"
Davis has become famous, or infamous depending on your point of view, for refusing to process marriage license applications in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's marriage equality ruling. She repeatedly turned away same-sex couples who came to the county courthouse to get the marriage license they are legally entitled to, and even stopped issuing licenses to all couples because of her view.
After Davis defied a direct court order to do her legally mandated job, federal Judge David Bunning, a George W. Bush nominee, found her in contempt of court, and Davis was jailed. Cue the "Christian persecution" rhetoric.
Many Religious Right activists have rallied around Davis, comparing her to Martin Luther King and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor executed for resisting the Nazis in Germany. Politicians have gotten into the act, too. Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee is planning a rally for Davis next week. Sen. Ted Cruz declared falsely that Davis had been jailed for her Christian beliefs, and said on Fox news that he stands with Davis "unequivocally."
Let's put aside the hyperventilating about religious freedom to consider the facts. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that gay couples have a constitutional right to get married. Davis not only refused to uphold the law, she stopped processing marriage license applications for anybody -- and she dragged her co-workers into the act, refusing to allow her deputies to do their jobs.
At the core of the argument that Davis and her lawyers from the far-right, anti-gay Liberty Counsel are making are several absurd assertions. The first is that issuing a marriage license as county clerk somehow implies her personal or spiritual approval of any particular couple's intended marriage. That is ridiculous on its face.
Equally ridiculous is the claim by Davis and her lawyers that it is a reasonable accommodation of Davis's anti-gay religious views to allow her to burden the more than 23,000 residents of Rowan County by forcing them to go elsewhere to get a marriage license.
It doesn't matter whether Davis is sincere in her belief that processing marriage paperwork for same-sex couples is a "heaven and hell" issue. What matters is the utterly unconstitutional and unworkable legal principle that she and those who declare #ImWithKim are asserting, which is that a public official can refuse to fulfill the responsibilities of her office, refuse to allow all those who work for her to do the jobs they are fully ready to do, and refuse to provide legally mandated services to the citizens she represents, all based on her particular interpretation of the Bible.
Davis's clerks are now granting licenses to the couples she had turned away. And even some conservative opponents of marriage equality are admitting that she went too far. But the Religious Right's martyr-making machinery is in full gear.
Journalists should not allow Cruz, Huckabee and others to get away with their rhetoric about tyranny, the "gaystapo," and anti-Christian persecution without asking them if they are really supporting a standard that allows people in public service to claim a religious rationale for picking and choosing which parts of the public they will service, and which of their job responsibilities they will refuse to perform.