Every circus has clowns, and the carnival surrounding Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis' claim that her religious beliefs should trump the rule of law and the civil rights of the people she is paid to serve has attracted more than its share of them.
The most shameless has been Mike Huckabee, a Republican presidential candidate, Baptist preacher and former Arkansas governor and Fox News showman.
Huckabee's campaign organized a rally for Davis in Grayson last Tuesday, the day U.S. District Judge David Bunning released her from jail there. She spent five nights behind bars for contempt of court after she refused the judge's order to let her office issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Brushing his face repeatedly for the TV cameras, as if wiping away tears, the Huckster blasted the judge — a conservative Catholic, George W. Bush appointee and son of former Republican Sen. Jim Bunning — for doing his job and enforcing the law.
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Huckabee then emotionally offered to take Davis' place in jail, claiming she was being punished for her beliefs rather than for her illegal behavior.
The second-biggest clown was another Republican presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. He showed up at the rally and shook hands until a Huckabee aide blocked him from taking the stage.
Although they haven't come to Kentucky for photo ops, GOP presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal also have voiced support for Davis' defiance of the judge's order and the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
I find it frightening that four presidential candidates of a major political party are so dismissive of the rule of law. I would be even more frightened if any of them had a chance of being elected president.
More disturbing, because they do have a chance of being elected, are similar stands being taken by Matt Bevin, the Republican nominee for governor, and state Sen. Whitney Westerfield of Hopkinsville, the GOP nominee for attorney general.
Do they have that little understanding of America's system of laws and justice? Even if they are just pandering for the votes of conservative Christians, everyone else should be alarmed.
This case isn't difficult to understand. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in June that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marriage under the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause. Decades ago, that same clause was interpreted to guarantee black people's civil rights.
Under our system of justice, such a ruling invalidates conflicting federal and state laws, such as Kentucky's 2004 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions.
The bedrock American principle here is that minorities have the same civil rights as everyone else, regardless of how majorities of voters would like to limit them.
Davis has a First Amendment right to free exercise of her religious beliefs. But her rights stop at the point where she, as a public official, infringes on the 14th Amendment rights of gay couples seeking legal marriage licenses. Justifying her actions "under God's authority" doesn't cut it.
Do Kentuckians really want a governor and attorney general who either don't understand our legal system or think some people should be exempt? Just think of the legal expenses they could rack up for taxpayers fighting losing battles over mixing church and state.
This isn't a fight between conservative values and liberal values; it is a fight between those who understand and respect the rule of law and those who don't.
As a side note, I have seen one positive thing come out of the Davis circus: Same-sex couples from across the country have come to Morehead to get married.
If those couples spend much time in Morehead, they will see that it is not the ignorant backwater portrayed in some national media reports.
Morehead is one of Eastern Kentucky's most progressive places. The city council in 2013 voted unanimously for an ordinance banning discrimination against gays and lesbians, becoming the sixth Kentucky city to do so.
It also is home to Morehead State University, whose respected academic programs range from music to space science. Morehead is not just a place where people preach about their ideas of heaven; it is a place where scientists are exploring the heavens as some of the leading pioneers of small satellite technology.