In defense of Kim Davis, conservatives often point out that “the definition of marriage changed” after Davis, the Kentucky County Clerk who has been at the center of a battle between the right to marry and the right to prevent others from doing things based on religious belief, took office. However, new information has been revealed in her case, and while it’s being used as a new defense, it’s actually a strong condemnation of Davis’ actions.
Though Kim Davis took office before the Supreme Court ruling that made it illegal to discriminate against same-sex couples seeking a marriage license, and overturning laws that did so, she didn’t take office unaware that the change was coming. In fact, new evidence shows that Davis took office with the intention of denying marriage licenses if there should ever come a day when she felt someone else’s marriage violated her religious beliefs.
Western Journalism reported on the letters, suggesting that they demonstrate that Davis set out from day one to avoid being placed in this position. It seems Davis took her oath of office, swearing to uphold the law and carry out her duties, in January, 2015, and about two weeks later, sent letters to legislators asking for a change in the law that would allow Davis and others an exemption from issuing marriage licenses.
Her letters speak of the Supreme Court’s promise to consider marriage rights in April (still months away at the time of her writing) and indicate that she doesn’t plan to “…issue or be a party to ‘the implementation of a contentious societal philosophy change.'”
Davis was pleading with legislators to pass new laws that would prevent her from ever having to make that decision — a decision she clearly knew was likely to be in her future otherwise. However, a law allowing her (and other clerks) an exemption was never passed, and Kentucky law still requires, as it did when Kim Davis took office and when she added her name to the ballot, that court clerks provide marriage licenses to all those who apply and are eligible.
Of course, these licenses don’t suggest that Kim Davis personally endorses any marriage, only that as an agent of the state, she can affirm the couple’s eligibility under law to be wed.
Notably, even then, Davis was clearly aware that to provide marriage licenses for opposite-sex couples while denying them to same-sex couples would be discrimination under the law, because, according to Vice, the request was for legislation that would allow a clerk to be exempt from issuing all marriage licenses — yes, to straight couples too.
Some states did pass the very legislation Kim Davis sought. The News and Observer reported on such a law in North Carolina, noting that magistrates can opt out of performing marriages, but if they do so, they may not perform any marriages for a period of six months — there’s no opting out on the day a gay couple walks into the office, and opting back in for a straight couple the next day.
The law also requires that someone who is willing to perform marriages for any couple must be available a certain number of hours per week — something that wouldn’t have fit with the Kentucky clerk’s agenda. After all, Kim Davis was sent to jail only after refusing to allow her deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses either — not merely for refusing to do so herself.
Recent reports suggest that there may be more court appearances yet for Davis, who, after being warned not to interfere with deputy clerks who had chosen to issue marriage licenses, altered legal documents in a way that may remove their authority.
If, indeed, she does return to court, it’s likely that, rather than an exoneration, these letters will be held as evidence that Kim Davis intended when she took office to defy her oath and refuse to carry out the duties of her job as defined by law.
[Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images]