Op-Ed

Posturing away on jailed clerk

FRANKFORT — Gotta admit, I was more than a bit surprised when U.S. District Judge David Bunning jailed Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis for contempt of court. I figured he might impose a stiff daily fine for her continued refusal to comply with his order regarding the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses.

However, Bunning's rationale for sending Davis to the pokey instead of hitting her in the pocketbook made sense.

If he had chosen to fine her, opponents of same-sex marriage around the state and nation may well have thrown enough money her way to keep her from suffering any personal pain for defying both Bunning's order and the U.S. Supreme Court's June decision validating same-sex marriage as a constitutional right.

(True believers throw their money away on lots of causes good and bad. Consider how much they throw away trying to elect people to public office in this country. Don't consider it too long, though, lest you start to gag thinking about the quality of "leadership" all those billions buy us.)

Even though jailing Davis assures she personally suffers some consequences for her actions, it comes with a couple of downsides. First, it perpetuates her status as a "martyr" among opponents of same-sex marriage. Worse, while sitting in jail refusing to do her job, Davis continues to collect her $80,000 salary from taxpayers, including LGBTQ taxpayers.

Given the jailing of Davis, Casey County Clerk Casey Davis (no relation to Kim) and Whitley County Clerk Kay Schwartz might now want to reconsider their refusal to issue marriage licenses following the Supreme Court decision. Unless they have a hankering for meeting a similar fate when the inevitable lawsuits are filed against them.

But three county clerks aren't the only Kentucky politicians posturing on the issue of same-sex marriage these days. Gubernatorial candidates Matt Bevin (Republican) and Jack Conway (Democrat) and General Assembly leaders also chimed in on the subject.

Bevin was quoted in The Courier-Journal as saying, "I absolutely support (Kim Davis') willingness to stand on her First Amendment rights (by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples). Without any question, I support her." Then, he went on to say he would enforce all laws regardless of his own religious beliefs if he gets elected. "As governor, it is my responsibility to ensure we comply with the law whether I agree with it or not."

Bevin has built quite a record of contradicting himself on a variety of issues. But it's unlikely he has made such a quick turnaround as he did in "absolutely" supporting Davis' right to violate the law on religious grounds while vowing to uphold any law regardless of his own religious beliefs.

What does Bevin not get about county clerks having the same responsibility as governors to "comply with the law whether (they) agree with it or not"? More important, how can voters trust him to keep his pledge of compliance with the law when he "absolutely" supports a clerk's non-compliance with the law?

For his part, Conway says he's OK with taking county clerks' names off of marriage licenses. What else is he OK with doing to keep the Kim Davises of the world from being inconvenienced? Where does this stop?

Conway can't afford to give liberal Democrats a reason to stay home in November. Without them, he has no chance at all. If he didn't get that message from Alison Lundergan Grimes' loss to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, he's not smart enough to be governor.

This past week, State House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Senate President Robert Stivers renewed their call for a special legislative session to give county clerks relief from having to issue same-sex marriage licenses. But there's a big problem for all the folks crying out for such a session. Both the House and Senate chambers have been gutted for months during a renovation that is far from complete.

Yes, the General Assembly on occasion has convened a ceremonial session in the Old Capitol. But holding a special session running a minimum of five days in a facility without modern electronics and that far removed from the legislature's normal working environment would be a logistical nightmare. Even broaching such an idea is dumb in the extreme.

Since Gov. Steve Beshear rightly has been adamant about not calling lawmakers to Frankfort just to placate three of Kentucky's 120 county clerks, Stumbo and Stivers don't have to worry about finding a place for a special session to convene. They can just keep posturing away, knowing full well they won't actually have to do anything until the next regular legislative session begins in January.

Reach Larry Dale Keeling at lkeeling@herald-leader.com.

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