Is Kim Davis The George Wallace of This Generation?

Much has been said about Rowan County Clerk of Courts Kim Davis over the past several weeks. And although the staunch opponent of same-sex marriage surely has her supporters – including GOP hopeful Mike Huckabee – her detractors are legion. Coarse humor and Internet memes aside, some critiques of the defiant public servant have proven to be particularly poignant. While those in the pro-Davis camp liken her actions to the kind of civil disobedience practiced by Henry David Thoroeau and Martin Luther King Jr., she has also been compared to those Americans who have infamously stood in the way of rights and equality, including Alabama Governor George Wallace.

In an article for The Aurora-Beacon News (syndicated by other outlets including The Chicago Tribune), writer Anthony Stanford makes the case that comparing Kim Davis to George Wallace is historically appropriate, given that both individuals defied U.S. law on the grounds of their own moral convictions. In 1963, Wallace resisted federal mandates that required the racial integration of public schools.

Wallace — who had said in his inaugural address, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” — was vehemently opposed to racial integration in any form whatsoever.

George Wallace even went so far as to personally and physically block young African-American students from entering a schoolhouse at the height of tension during the effort to integrate Alabama schools. But in the end, he deferred to the rule of law and acquiesced. Indeed, Wallace eventually apologized for his actions and renounced his racist views and policies, although he lived much of the rest of his life in the shadow of his segregationist past.

Anthony Stanford, who penned his critique of Kim Davis on the eve of her return to work at the Rowan County Clerk’s Office, acknowledges that it remains to be seen whether Davis will follow in the example of Wallace and capitulate or if she will continue to defy the law. Citing a comment by U.S. Attorney Kerry B. Harvey, Stanford suggests that the outcome should Davis block her clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples will likely follow a predictable path that includes another stint of incarceration.

“Government officials are free to disagree with the law but not disobey it.”

To be sure, Stanford’s piece on Kim Davis is not the only mainstream news outlet that has invoked the unflattering comparison to George Wallace. Renee Graham of The Boston Globe made a compelling argument similar to that of Stanford earlier this month, opining that Kim Davis – like Wallace in 1963– is very much on the wrong side of history.

“Defying the rule of law didn’t work for Wallace, and it won’t work for Davis.”

Similar discussions of the similarities between Kim Davis and George Wallace have been made by writers for The Advocate and Al-Jazeera America, as well as noted right-wing pundit George F. Will.

A sudden reversal of personal and political opinions seems improbable when Kim Davis returns to work on Monday morning. In fact, her attorney has indicated that she will continue to follow her conscience when it comes to executing her official duties. While it is entirely possible that she, like Wallace, might ultimately relent for the present and passively step aside so that controversy might subside, further defiance of the law will surely prompt a harsh response from the Court as well as futher backlash on both sides of the dispute.

[Images via Ty Wright and Keystone/Hulton Archive for Getty Images]