Steve Beshear’s Headache

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear speaks during a press conference after a closed joint whip and caucus meeting on the Affordable Care Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, 5 December 2013. (Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty)

Meanwhile, in the Bluegrass State:

David V. Moore and his fiancé went to the Rowan County Clerk’s office, armed with a copy of that Supreme Court ruling, in addition to Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear’s executive order requiring all county clerks to issue marriage licenses. In the video, employees appear to ignore the legal documents provided, continuing to refuse the couple’s request for a marriage license, while the Clerk Davis hid in the back of the office.

Writing on his Facebook wall, Moore says, “We were denied a marriage license on Monday, July 6 at the Rowan County Clerk’s office. Kim Davis is at the end of the video, but we turned it off at her request.”

The recording shows the men entering the clerk’s office and waiting patiently while other residents — including people who came in after the couple — are served. Staff at the counter refuse the men’s request and tell them that Clerk Davis is “busy right now.” Then employees called the police, insisting that the couple’s supporters stop filming the anticipated rejection.

A police officer arrives at the office toward the end of the video and speaks with employees. When Clerk Davis finally emerges from her office (around the 11 minute mark), she tells the supporter to “Put your phone away.” The two continue to bicker for a moment before the video ends.

Kentucky law does not forbid filming any interactions with public officials in a public place.


Oh, and you know there’s more.

We should note specifically that Kim Davis and Casey Davis are not actually related. Not that it matters, except random coincidence compels the consideration.

Oh, right:

A county clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples for religious reasons said Thursday that Kentucky’s governor had ordered him to do his job or quit.

Casey Davis, one of three clerks in the state who is not granting licenses, held a meeting with Gov. Steve Beshear after last month’s ruling that upheld equal right to marriage across the country.

However, Beshear insisted clerks must carry out their duties and said the majority were “complying with the law” despite personal beliefs.

“‘Issue marriage licenses or resign’ — those were the words,” Davis told reporters after the meeting. “I can’t quit … I have a mortgage to pay.”


Setting aside the question of why this one circumstance is the deal-breaker, as ostensible Christians have participated in all manner of conscience-challenging acts on behalf of the public interest, from capital punishment to marriage licenses for divorcées―and, besides, the answer is already clear enough: “Because they don’t want to!”―there remains the question of martyrdom and appeals to sentiment. Yes, Mr. Davis, we understand that you have a mortgage to pay, and all that. And, yes, we understand that all you’re asking―

This morning, I advised Mr. Davis that I respect his right to his own personal beliefs regarding same-sex marriages. However, when he was elected, he took a constitutional oath to uphold the United States Constitution. According to the United States Supreme Court, the Constitution now requires that governmental officials in Kentucky and elsewhere must recognize same-sex marriages as valid and allow them to take place. One of Mr. Davis’ duties as county court clerk is to issue marriage licenses, and the Supreme Court now says that the United States Constitution requires those marriage licenses to be issued regardless of gender. Mr. Davis’ own county attorney has advised him that his oath requires him to do so.


―is to opt out of the Constitution you swore an oath to uphold, and simply because you’re upset at the fact of being merely equal to your homosexual neighbor.

This is what conservatives don’t seem to understand. It’s as if everything is a perverse joke on a concept they disdain. The exact failure to recognize and comprehend fundamental functional differences between this, that, and the other, is astounding to the point of occasionally suggesting genuine dysfunction.

If the exercise of your conscience requires specific and focused conditional suffering of others, then no, you cannot have it. And the same failure to comprehend occurs over and over, in seemingly petty issues.

Library books.

No, really. Consider 1992, when Oregon and Colorado held votes on whether or not the state governments should deliberately persecute homosexuals. Oregon said no; Colorado said yes and was eviscerated in court. That was Romer v. Evans, by the way. Social conservatives are still really angry about that one: No, you cannot vote to use the state government to persecute people.

In Oregon, the rally cry was a library book.

Yes, really. Lesléa Newman’s Heather Has Two Mommies was the touchstone for Measure 9.

And it was the same basic argument: My First Amendment right to free religion as a Christian is not intact if that author’s First Amendment right to free expression is not suspended. The same framework came up in the middle of the nineties when a parent in the Salem-Keizer school district protested the presence of Robert R. McCammon’s Demon Walk in a school library because the presence of the word “demon” violated her First Amendment right to free religion as a Christian. And it’s even at the root of the strange complaint against L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, that mistakes a Shakespeare joke for elderly lesbianism, charges witchcraft while omitting the glory unto God given throughout the trilogy, and somehow transforms the anti-communist narrative into advocacy of communism. Regardless of what we might think of such complaints, the driving assertion is the same: My rights as a Christian are violated as long as someone else’s are intact.

And that’s the problem. Of course the American Family Association wants to compare marriage equality to the Confederacy:

The recent conversation surrounding the Confederate flag has inspired some anti-gay pundits to call for the removal of the rainbow flag, traditionally understood as a symbol for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

After photos emerged of Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old who murdered nine black congregants in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, posing with the Confederate flag, many are calling for the removal of the flag due to its symbolism for white supremacy.

Anti-gay pundits are now attempting to co-opt the important conversation in favor of hateful rhetoric, calling for the removal of LGBT flags. According to Right Wing Watch, Brian Fischer, the notoriously anti-gay radio host, broached the subject on his show Tuesday.

“If we are going to remove symbols of oppression from our culture, if we come to the point where we say any flag that represents bigotry, any flag that represents hatred, any flag that represents slavery or oppression needs to be removed, then I want to suggest to you that the next flag to go ought to be the rainbow flag of the Gay Reich,” Fischer stated. “The rainbow flag represents the gay lobby, it represents Big Gay, it represents what I’m calling for the first time today, I’m introducing a new term: the Gay Reich. They’ve got a flag just like the Nazis had their flag.


A note aside to Mr. Fischer: There is, also, a Christian flagα, and of course they are flying it in protest of the Obergefell decision. And all they are expressing is a declaration of higher law than the United States Constitution.

This has always been the point, that Christians aren’t equal unless they are superior; that Christian rights are violated as long as anyone else’s are intact.

In terms of marriage equality, is this really the discussion social conservatives want to have, that Christians are somehow entitled to something different, and presumably better, than the rest of us, just because they are Christians?

And in broader terms, with American Christians posturing themselves as generally under siege, is this really the banner they want to fly, that Christians are above the supreme law of the land, and thus above American society? Do Christians really want to establish themselves as something outside, and therefore alien to American society? If the scavenger hunt calls for self-fulfilling prophecies of political strife, the vociferous evangelical corner of the American discourse is rich with the stuff. And, yes, something about a boatload of broken glass goes here.

Which brings us back ’round to Mr. Fischer and basic differences. We can say the Confederacy was about states rights or whatever, but in the end the underlying right asserted was to be superior over others in the eyes of the law. What people gained from abolition, Brown, Loving, and even today as we still bask in the Obergefell decision was the right―the freedom―to be equal. What the Confederacy lost, what the supremacists lost, and what these hardline evangelical bigots are losing today is the equality of being superior. And this is the basic difference that conservatives seem to have trouble comprehending. The Confederate flag is an emblem of hatred, of dominance and subjugation. The rainbow flag is a symbol of a struggle against such elements. Indeed, we might consider that while the rainbow flag represents a certain group of people, much like the Christian flag, we don’t have former vice presidents of the United States reciting pledges of allegiance to the rainbow vowing liberty and justice for homosexuals and their friends.

This is a basic, functional difference; it is not particularly, or even generally, subtle. But in order to convince themselves that they are, in fact, doing good―because, let’s face it, very few among human history have gone about their damage gleefully and willfully plotting evil―they must believe that equality means Christians are entitled to more than everybody else. You know, just because. They’re Christians.

And whether it’s library books, the music kids or anyone else are listening to, wardrobe malfunctions during halftime broadcasts, sex ed, birth control, homosexuals, reproductive health services, or a host of other issues, some of which recent times remind are quite morbid, this is what it comes down to: Christian equality is violated unless Christians are superior. “One for you, more for me”.

Over and over and over again. This is what it comes to. This is what it looks like. This is what it does.


α Nor is this the first time we’ve heard of it. To reiterate a point from a couple weeks ago, we might recall a description of a 1994 conference called Reclaiming America for Christ:

[Former Vice President Dan] Quayle’s speech was unremarkable, except for his presence during the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance―to the Christian flag―which preceded his remarks. The Christian flag, white with a gold cross on a blue field in the upper-left corner, flies outside Kennedy headquarters. The assemblage recited together: “I pledge allegiance to the Christian Flag and to the Savior for whose Kingdom it stands. One Savior, crucified, risen, and coming again with life and liberty for all who believe.”

Image note: Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear speaks during a press conference after a closed joint whip and caucus meeting on the Affordable Care Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, 5 December 2013. (Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty)

Browning, Bil. “Cops Respond to Kentucky Gay Couple Requesting Marriage License”. The Advocate. 8 July 2015.

Beshear, Steve. “Gov. Beshear Statement on Today’s Meeting with Casey County Clerk”. Governor Steve Beshear’s Communications Office. 9 July 2015.

Blumberg, Antonia. “Pastor Flies Christian Flag Above American Flag To Protest Gay Marriage”. The Huffington Post. 8 July 2015.

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. “What This Cruel War Was Over”. The Atlantic. 22 June 2015.

Jamieson, Alastair. “Kentucky clerk Casey Davis ordered to comply with law on gay marriage”. msnbc. 10 July 2015.

Kent, Le’a. “‘Abnormal, Wrong, Unnatural and Perverse’: Taking the Measure (9) of the Closet”. (n.d.)

Nichols, JamesMichael. “Anti-Gay Pundits Calls For Removal Of Gay Pride Flag In Wake Of Confederate Flag Controversy”. The Huffington Post. 24 June 2015.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s