• The importance of sympathizing with Kim Davis



    As reported by CNN and others, Kim Davis is back at work at the Rowan County Clerk’s office. She reached a compromised with Judge David Bunning that licences would not have her name on them, but rather “issued pursuant to a federal court order.” Such a licence has been issued to a lesbian couple today.


    On this issue, Kim Davis has said,

    I never imagined a day like this would come, where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage. To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision.

    In my opinion, there are many things wrong with her position. For example,

    • There’s no requirement you have that job. You can resign. The Bible does not say, you’re required to be a County Clerk no matter what. Vegans don’t apply for jobs at steak houses.
    • Jesus never said anything about homosexuality.
    • The New Testament is decidedly anti-family and anti-marriage. Jesus said that he had come to set father against son (Matthew 10:35) and Paul said it’s better for a man to be celibate and unmarried (Cor I 7:25).
    • Jesus seemed to be of the opinion one should not bother with or interfere with government affairs; render unto Ceasar what is Ceasar’s (Mark 12:17).
    • Jesus said you can’t get divorced (Matthew 19) but Davis had no problem getting several divorces, and presumably executing functions of the County Clerk’s office that support and respect divorce.

    Without scriptural support, we must suppose she has other motivations. It is not unreasonable to suspect she is, despite her protestations to the contrary, personally disgusted by, or at the least staunchly opposed to, homosexuality. To suffer jail for this, she must have some strong emotion in play. Perhaps she fears the world changing into a different one that she thinks is hostile to bedrock elements that she relies on feel safe and comfortable. Even if she’s wrong, she might feel that way. I don’t know.

    But I do know her allies in this, including people like Mike Huckabee, stoke the fires as much as possible. They are using the Davis case to paint a narrative of overbearing judges and unreasonable halts to personal religious freedom at the hands of hostile, Christian-hating liberals. No doubt, this is meant to rile their conservative base. Huckabee positively salivated at the idea of going to jail on Davis’s behalf, so jealous is he of her martyr potential.

    Now if you are angry about Davis’s refusal to do her job, we come to the first reason you should make an effort to sympathize with her instead: it’s what your adversary fears the most. They want you to be aggressive, arrogant, dismissive, and to attack Davis. They want the government to act rashly and harshly. This is evidence they will use to prove their narrative, which will, in turn, galvanize conservatives and motivate votes for them.


    Do not help your adversary. Instead, do the thing that undermines them completely. That shatters the false picture and puts a hole in their gas tank: sympathize with Kim Davis. Insist that she should not be ridiculed and attacked (criticism is different from ridicule) unfairly. Insist that she deserves due process, the same as anyone else. Insist that the cold, objective provisions of the law alone should determine her legal fate here, not our anger or disgust with her actions. Openly denounce the death threats made against her, along with sexist arguments attacking her on the basis of her personal life or appearance.

    If you are a humanist, you should do those things regardless. But even if you aren’t, do them to steal victory from harmful, regressive political elements like Huckabee’s camp.

    But all that aside, there’s an even better reason to do what I have suggested. 


    It is how progress is made in the long run. Would you like a world where there just wasn’t a person doing what Davis is doing? Well this is how you make that wish come true.

    I can’t say for certain in the case of Davis, or any one person, but it’s quite likely that just under the surface you find fear. Lots of fear. Panic, even. Fear that you live in a winner-takes-all, us-them contest with the “them” threatening to take away things that you believe makes your sphere habitable and good. Community standards, moral values, things ma and pa believe. Also, fear of loss of autonomy, security, and stability. Now, this fear may be totally unjustified, but that does not prevent its harmful effects.

    If you want to prevent Kim Davises rather than react to them, we must start proving with our words and actions, that we are not in a culture war. We are not in cultural Thunderdome where there’s no second place. We’re a civilized society. We are in this together and we all need each other. This remains true, even when we disagree and squabble. Even when we hurt each other. Sympathize and support Kim Davis as a human being (her right not to get death threats for voting her conscience, to not be dehumanized with sexist attacks, to due process under the law) to show her and all the other possible nascent future Kim Davises they don’t have to be afraid; that even change they do not like is not a threat to their basic security and way of life.

    When you see someone so full of fear and anger, they are due more of your tolerance and compassion, not less of it. This does not mean you agree with them, or fail to stop them. It means you recognize a person whom society has made to feel insecure and vulnerable that should not feel that way. Nobody should ever feel so insecure about increasing freedoms that they are willing to go to jail to fight them. When someone acts that way, partly, it means society has failed that person and harmed them. They need, and are entitled to, our help. They need our compassion all the more.

    See, you can’t bomb a nation into a stable democracy. You can only make one by putting the guns down and building the things that make a democracy possible and worth having: roads, schools, hospitals. That’s what we did for post-war Japan and Germany, two of our great republic allies today who were once our bitterest enemies. Similarly, you can’t ridicule, jail, and insult the South into modernity. You can only do that by putting down the weapons, and extending a hand.

    This isn’t just one way to win, to secure real progress. In the long run, it is the only way.

    Category: featuredFeatured Incmoralitysecularismskepticismsocial justice

  • Article by: Edward Clint

    Ed Clint is an evolutionary psychologist, co-founder of Skeptic Ink, and USAF veteran.
    • I ceratainly do sympathize with Kim Davis. She signed up for a specific job which she had seen performed firsthand for 25 years, and then the Supreme Court went and changed the job description without so much as consulting the people of Kentucky. Now she is being unfairly compared to a vegan who applied to work at a steakhouse.

      (But seriously, she should resign as a matter of conscience.)

      • Craptacular

        When Kim was sworn in to fulfill the duties of her office, part of those duties are upholding new laws that are passed. So no, just because things change doesn’t mean I have any sympathy for her. It just means she is a liar and oathbreaker.

        You can keep thinking of her as a victim, but she signed the documents and took the oath of office, and now she doesn’t want to fulfill that oath for the people of Kentucky. If she had some reservations of fulfilling parts of that oath, which she obviously did since she now claims she must obey a higher law than our government, then she should not have sworn the oath or told the people of Kentucky that she is only going to uphold the laws she believes comport with her god’s laws.

        • I don’t think it was reasonably foreseeable, back in Nov 2014, that Kentucky clerks would soon be required to license same-sex marriages. That same month, the Sixth Circuit had upheld Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriage and the outcome of Love v. Beshear was in doubt.

          • Craptacular

            Too bad the oath of office doesn’t include the weasel-words “reasonably foreseeable changes to the law,” instead of requiring the clerks to, you know, follow all the laws.

            • This isn’t an important point. A change in law requiring resignation might be uncomfortable and upsetting for a person. That changes nothing about the need to resign in order to respect both the office and her beliefs. By refusing, she is giving insult to both.

            • I do not believe one’s oath should take priority over one’s conscience, where new laws are concerned.

            • Craptacular

              Exactly. You now see the problem…it’s not same sex marriage that is the issue, it is her unwillingness to fulfill her oath of office due to her conscience. That is why she should resign.

          • iamcuriousblue

            Considering that Kim Davis job is basically an overpaid position (compared to other officials in her county) originally gained via nepotism (Kim Davis mother was previous Rowan County Clerk), I don’t have much sympathy for her having any overarching need to keep that job. The position is already a political spoil, and its that much more insulting that she’s not even willing to do her job in the non-discriminatory manner the law demands.


          • Konrad_Lorenz

            It is reasonably forseeable that the courts would force the states to change a law by ruling it unconstitutional. It’s happened a whole lot in the past.

            • The question I’m asking is whether it was foreseeable that this particular law would be overturned in that particular jurisdiction.

            • Why does it matter if it were foreseeable? That she should not have run? Even in retrospect, she was right (from her POV) to run because she still has her job, apparently it is her career as well.

              The issue of whether or not one should end a long career on the basis of what might happen but hasn’t happened yet is a quibble compared to the issue of whether or not it is ethical to remain at a public trust job you are incapable of doing.

            • “Why does it matter if it were foreseeable?”

              A vegan who applied to work at a steakhouse would have reasonably foreseen that she would be asked to do fairly un-vegan things. For that analogy to have force, Davis must have also foreseen that she would be called upon to violate her conscience.

            • Yes, and as soon as the law changed, that’s exactly the position she was in. The point of the analogy is simply that not every job is meant for every person and we all use our common sense to understand that. Nitpicking the analogy seems petty and pedantic.

            • Konrad_Lorenz

              I realize that’s what you asked. My point though is that the duty of the public official to uphold the law implies that they would defer to the courts on the question of constitutionality even when they disagree. This is definitely foreseeable, which destroys your argument (even without answering your specific question).

              Nevertheless, to answer that question, I do think it was reasonably foreseeable to someone who was paying attention to legal developments. After all, Hawaii’s supreme court ruled the same thing in 1999. (That was the first state supreme court to do so). Of course, it still could have gone either way federally, but nobody who knew what the state supreme courts were doing could reasonably claim to be completely blind-sided by the federal courts doing the same thing as what the state courts were doing.

              Also, the Hawaii ruling was the basis of numerous widely-publicized state constitutional amendments designed to prevent the same thing happening in other states — as well as DOMA. Opponents of gay marriage, in general, were very much aware of the possibility of the courts requiring it. Hence the push (defeated) to pass a constitutional amendment defining marriage. Basically, everybody knew this could happen, unless they weren’t paying attention.

              But as I said, that isn’t required to defeat your argument here. Even if Kim Davis was somehow unaware of the reason why the GOP (et al) tried and failed to pass a constitutional amendment defining marriage, she had a duty to be aware of the fact that a public official must defer to this kind of court ruling in general. She can’t claim to have been put in a situation she could not have anticipated. If in fact she did not anticipate the situation, that is her failure and we are right to blame her for it.

              She probably did anticipate it though.

            • “My point though is that the duty of the public official to uphold the
              law implies that they would defer to the courts on the question of
              constitutionality even when they disagree.”

              I’ve never denied that; sorry if I gave you that impression.

      • Geoff_Roberts

        I also sympathize with Kim Davis to a degree. Ultimately, I think she should resign but I admire her willingness to stand up for what she believes (however misguided). I believe the gay marriage issue should have been left up to the states as there is nothing in the constitution regarding marriage. It isn’t the proper role of the Federal government or the Supreme Court to make a decision in this controversial matter.

        So, to some degree, I admire a conscientious objector like Kim Davis willing to stand up to a overreaching, evermore powerful Federal government making a determination where they have no constitutional basis to do so.

        I’d like to compare the Kim Davis refusal to follow Federal law with the refusal of so-called sanctuary cities also refusing to follow Federal laws. Sanctuary cities openly defy Federal immigration laws and, yet, there are little to no consequences in doing so. So, there is selective enforcement of Federal laws based on political expediency and who happens to be in power. Those that are happy with Kim Davis being thrown in jail also seem to celebrate the leaders of sanctuary cities.

        I’m curious what those who condemn Kim Davis feel about sanctuary cities openly flouting Federal law?

        • “I believe the gay marriage issue should have been left up to the states as there is nothing in the constitution regarding marriage.”

          Neither is there anything in the constitution explicitly addressing sexual privacy (Lawrence v. Texas) nor anything explicitly addressing interracial marriage (Loving v. Virginia) nor anything explicitly addressing prayer in public schools (Abington v. Schempp), and so on. Oftentimes the court has to apply general principles such as equal treatment under law to the specific case at hand.

          • Geoff_Roberts

            I believe you’re correct. However, the Supreme Court should also NOT have taken on those cases and it should have been left to the legislatures to make those those laws and decisions (even if we agree with the outcome of the Supreme Court decision).

            Do you have an opinion on the sanctuary city comparison with Kim Davis?

        • Konrad_Lorenz

          Gay marriage like slavery had to be decided on the federal level because you can’t have the states disagreeing about whether someone is married (or about whether someone is property).

          It is in any case the role of the courts (whether federal or not) to check the legislature and prevent “tyranny of the majority.” Gays are a small minority, the majority can’t be allowed to use their superior voting numbers to abuse them.

          Sanctuary cities are a very different matter, both because (1) it isn’t an issue of individual rights being tramped on by majorities; and (2) the sanctuary cities ARE NOT defying federal laws, but merely declining to aid the federal government in enforcing them TO THE EXTENT PERMITTED by federal law. You will not find any “sanctuary city” that refuses a federal subpoena or a federal court order or anything like that. All that they do is order local law enforcement not to investigate immigration status. The federal government has no law requiring them to do so.

          • Geoff_Roberts

            Sanctuary cities clearly defy federal detainer requests from ICE. This is absolutely breaking federal law and shouldn’t be condoned or ignored by the government. However, it is politically expedient to do in today’s culture of gaming the immigration laws whereas the Kim Davis situation goes against the “progressive” media and the current party in charge.

            During an 8 month period in 2014, over 8,000 illegal aliens were unlawfully released from sanctuary cities when there was a federal detainer request to release them to ICE.

    • Craptacular

      She has my sympathy…as much sympathy as I gave all the other bigots when their privilege-to-discriminate dried up. I will reserve my sympathy for her victims, or those who actually deserve it. She is a petty bureaucrat attempting to grandstand for publicity by inserting her own personal morality into a minor government function.