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The Faux Martyr Of The Religious Right Basks In The Last Of Her 15 Minutes

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, right, talks with David Moore following her office's refusal to issue marriage licenses at the Rowan County Courthouse in Morehead, Ky., Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015. Although her appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied, Davis still refuses to issue marriage licenses. (Timothy D. Easley/AP)
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, right, talks with David Moore following her office's refusal to issue marriage licenses at the Rowan County Courthouse in Morehead, Ky., Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015. Although her appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied, Davis still refuses to issue marriage licenses. (Timothy D. Easley/AP)
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Same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. Kim Davis has a constitutional right to her religious objection. What Kentucky’s voluble, thrice-divorced champion of traditional marriage does not have is a right to keep her municipal job as a county clerk while refusing to do that job.

There is no ambiguity in this late summer sideshow. The Rowan County Clerk’s refusal to issue marriage licenses to gay couples is unconstitutional. It violates an order of U.S. District Judge David L. Bunning that she comply with the law, an order left in place this week by the U.S. Supreme Court that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in June. It defies a directive from Kentucky Gov. Steven Beshear that all county clerks obey the law. Instead, Davis refuses to issue marriage licenses to all couples, gay or straight, claiming that “to issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience.”

There is no ambiguity in this late summer sideshow. [Her] refusal to issue marriage licenses to gay couples is unconstitutional.

No one is denying Davis her right to her religious beliefs or to her First Amendment right to express them. April Miller and Karen Roberts did not ask her to bless their union, only to issue them the civil paperwork they were legally entitled to receive. David Ermold and David Moore did not ask her to solemnize their nuptials, only to do her job and give them a license to marry.

All acts of conscience come with consequences. She is free to resign her public sector job, acknowledging that a secular society would not long function if every individual’s personal views were allowed to trump the rule of law. She is just as free to obey the law, acknowledging the obvious truth that a marriage license issued by a civil authority is not a religious endorsement of same-sex marriage.

But to do either of those things would shut down this summer stock production before Davis and her supporters have fully savored her star turn as faux martyr of the religious right. So, on Thursday, Judge Bunning will be back on stage, playing the part of godless secularist (he who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush) when he confronts Davis with her intransigence and likely finds her in contempt of court, as four same-sex couples and the American Civil Liberties Union have rightly said he must.

The frenetic attention will end soon enough. Summer, the silly season in the news business, is waning.

Davis can hardly be faulted for milking her moment in the summer spotlight. The TV cameramen show up of their own accord at the counter of her small county clerk’s office in Morehead as predictably as Donald Trump materializes at the border with Mexico or as reliably great white sharks circle the seals offshore in Chatham.

The frenetic attention will end soon enough. Summer, the silly season in the news business, is waning. As Labor Day looms, it may well dawn on Kim Davis that the prospect of steep fines and jail time is unlikely to produce a salutary effect on her own fourth marriage, no matter how blessed it may be.

UPDATE, Sept. 3, 2015 at 1:43 p.m.: U.S. District Judge David Bunning has ordered Kim Davis to jail after she refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Davis said "thank you" before she was led out of the courtroom by a U.S. marshal. (AP)

This article was originally published on September 03, 2015.

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Eileen McNamara Cognoscenti contributor
Eileen McNamara teaches journalism at Brandeis University. The author of a biography of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, she won a Pulitzer Prize as a columnist for The Boston Globe.

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