By Clarence Page
Tribune Content Agency
While Kim Davis, the now-famous county clerk in Kentucky who refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, sat in jail, her deputies issued licenses to same-sex couples for the first time.
The earth and skies, it must be noted, did not open up with fire, bats, lizards, brimstone or burning sulphur.
Nor were Davis' religious liberties violated, contrary to what Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and other conservative presidential candidates might argue. United States District Court Judge David L. Bunning made it clear that Davis was undeniably free to practice the religion of her choice, as long as it did not interfere with her sworn duties.
She could pray with and preach to friends and neighbors as she chooses. She can vote based on her faith. She can avoid people whose lifestyles she disapproves.
And if she could not bring herself to sign or process marriage licenses for same-sex couples, which she refused to do after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in June, she could resign her job or assign the task to one of her willing deputies.
But Davis preferred to defy the legitimate authority of federal court and the duties to which the voters of Rowan County elected her. Although the plaintiffs in the case asked for fines, not jail, to avoid her becoming a political martyr, Bunning decided jail was appropriate to the seriousness of the offense.
Predictably, especially in a presidential election season, conservative Republican candidates rushed to the defense of Davis, who ironically is a Democrat. Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, plus former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, passionately denounced what Paul called punishment for exercising their "religious liberties."
I could not help but wonder, as a number of Twitter users tweeted, how much outrage we would have heard from Davis' defenders if she had been, say, a pacifist who refused to issue gun permits. Imagine the fireworks that would set off.
But for those who seek pathways to compromise on such volatile issues of church and state, I appreciated the reasonableness that Cruz showed in Facebook post: "We should make it possible for believers, such as Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis in Kentucky, to hold government jobs without having to violate their religious beliefs. We can work together to come up with alternative ways to ensure that government functions are accomplished without infringing on religious liberty." Thank you for your diplomacy, senator. In these polarized times, we could use more of that.
A further irony: this may not have been the first time that a license was issued to a same-sex couple in the county. Camryn Colen, 30, who is transgender, and his wife Alexis, 21, who identifies as "pansexual" according to news reports, say Davis issued a marriage license to them in February.
At a rally last week, the two went public, saying Davis' office issued the license to them without asking to see Camryn's birth certificate, which still identifies him as female. "Technically," said Camryn, "they granted a same-sex couple a marriage license before it was even legal." Which only shows how gender politics can put some people, like Davis, ahead of their times before they realize it.
Maybe putting the brakes on social and judicial change is what a Tennessee judge had in mind when he decided, instead of getting in the way of same-sex marriage, to use the Supreme Court's decision to get in the way of a husband and wife who are seeking divorce.
Hamilton County Chancellor Jeffrey Atherton denied the divorce petition filed by Thomas Bumgardner, 65, and his wife, Pamela, 61, of Signal Mountain arguing that state courts are impaired from addressing marriage and divorce litigation altogether until the high court clarifies "when a marriage is no longer a marriage."
The Supreme Court, he insisted, has judged Tennesseans "to be incompetent to define and address such keystone/central institutions such as marriage, and, thereby, at minimum, contested divorces," Atherton wrote.
Is the judge, who also is elected, grandstanding? Sometimes politics does more to pull people apart than bring them together.
Yet, compared to the political blowback we've seen after other earthshaking decision in the past, such as civil rights and abortion rights, we should be thankful the backlash against gay marriage hasn't been worse. Let's hope it stays that way.
Reach Clarence Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.