Op-Ed

Ky. clerk a pawn in national right-wing agenda

Andy Warhol once famously commented, "In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes."

Lifted from obscurity, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis has certainly learned the truth of Warhol's adage.

With the latest turn of her religious war against the rule of law, it seems that this controversy is now beginning its second and most political phase, becoming an ascendant issue in the gubernatorial race.

Close observers of this imbroglio probably already sensed that this case was deeply enmeshed in local, state and national politics being fomented by the religious right.

The involvement of Liberty Counsel, the legal arm of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University and legal representative of Davis, hinted that broader political motives were driving this legal tangle.

Whatever the suspicions held by opponents of Davis' actions, one need not issue ad hominem attacks on her divorce record, pecuniary interests in holding onto to her generous salary ($80,000 a year), seeming family nepotism, to recognize that she is being used by larger right-wing religious forces for their own ends.

Nor does the overriding principles that are being put forth to defend her resistance hold much water.

Her argument — and that of her legal counsel — rests on the claim that the First Amendment trumps the 14th Amendment is hard to sustain in the face of a careful reading of its full statement that "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

By emphasizing the second part and remaining silent on the first part, Davis and her defenders are all but admitting that her actions in denying legal protections to gays and lesbians to marry as decided in the recent Obergefell case by the highest court of our country are actually seeking to advance the establishment of one denomination of Christian religion as definitive in determining whether gays may exercise their freedom to marry in Rowan County, and by implication anywhere in the United States.

Surely the intent of the Liberty Counsel is to create political conditions that would effectively reverse the Obergefell decision.

So we should see the drama that is being played out in Rowan County as a microcosm of what larger forces are doing to stoke up emotionalism and hatred and rank discrimination against a group of human beings not merely like us, but who are us in every respect, except perhaps one.

Its second phase, covertly sought after and now beginning, seeks to turn the gubernatorial election into a referendum on the supposed martyrdom of a heretofore obscure county clerk when issues of the public realm are being marginalized by a business person who has shown little clear understanding or no genuine compassionate concern about the everyday problems of millions of Kentuckians struggling to make ends meet and pay medical bills.

Meanwhile, the standard bearer of the state Democratic party seems to be working hard to avoid defending traditional party policy positions, so much so that he appears to be running not for the governorship of the commonwealth but for the dubious accolade of the Kentucky "weak-kneed liberal of the year."

Neither seems to realize that true political leadership includes a pedagogical responsibility to the citizens and voters for whom they are vying.

Only the standing governor and a federal district court justice seem to have realized what the law of the land requires and what must be communicated to Kentucky citizens.

What is fundamentally at issue in this fracas is this: Will Kentucky become mired again in age-old conflicts inflamed more by ignorance than reason or true faith in a loving God of all and slip further and further into political mediocrity, economic backwardness, and sham religiosity?

Or, will it find the political, cultural and — yes, spiritual — resources to recognize this case as an opportunity to learn important lessons of true community, basic humanity, tolerance of difference and the riches such differences can provide, separation of church and state, and avenues for progressive change for all God's people.

Reach Ernie Yarnerella at ejyana@uky.edu.

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