WASHINGTON, Sept. 4, 2015 – Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Kentucky, clerk of the court, whose job requires issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, refused to do so based on her religious beliefs.
She was put in jail Thursday for failure to do her job.
United States District Court Judge David Bunning found her in contempt of court because her positon meant she was required to issue licenses, and she refused to do so.
She further refused to allow her deputy clerks to do so.
The term “civil disobedience” has been used for any number of actions, or inactions, to describe groups and people that have refused to obey certain laws of the government. Civil disobedience is one of the many ways people have rebelled against what they consider to be unfair or unjust laws.
Davis is certainly a woman of conviction. Her defiance of the law is not something new in the annals of history.
In the United States in the 1850s, many minority and ethnic groups, including blacks, Jews, Seventh Day Baptists, Catholics and others employed civil disobedience to fight a range of laws and public practices that promoted ethnic, religious and racial discrimination.
Mahatma Gandhi possibly established the concept of “non-violent” protest in leading the efforts of India to force independence from British rule.
In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, industrial workers went on strike, picketed, conducted sit-ins and withstood violence from strike-breakers and police, all to secure jobs and to end harsh employer tactics in cutting workers’ pay.
The American Civil Rights movement involved disobeying laws. Besides Martin Luther King, there were many people involved in that movement whose names will always be remembered. And the movement continues.
Last December a group of protesters calling themselves Black Lives Matter gathered and protested at the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Nelson Mandela is known worldwide for his efforts in fighting South African laws of apartheid.
Many people have refused to pay taxes as a form of protest for government actions or policies.
Modern forms of civil disobedience are often very well orchestrated, with people actually training on how to react, in anticipation of being attacked, beaten or jailed by police.
Many civil disobedient protesters have strong beliefs in their causes. Trespassers at a nuclear missile installation and picketers in front of movies depicting questionable scenes involving animals come to mind. Many of these amounted to not much more than a nuisance, and often bystanders question their effectiveness and suggest the actions are absurd.
Others, such as Julia Hill, accomplished their purposes. Hill lived in a 600-year-old California redwood tree for 738 days and successfully prevented it from being cut down.
George Carlin violated laws against forbidden speech. Others have gone naked in public places to protest laws against public nudity. Many have smoked marijuana in public to protest laws forbidding consumption.
There is no “right” or “wrong” with Davis’ particular religious belief on same-sex marriage.
Religious belief might be the most powerful justification for action in all of history; it certainly has been the reason for many wars and countless deaths.
Her refusal to grant marriage licenses is not on a level of causing wars or deaths. Neither is it a trivial non-action that can be written off as a nuisance.
Her refusal is affecting the rights of others.
Newspaper reporters go to jail to protect confidential informants, in violation of court orders to disclose their source of information. Their refusals are not nuisances and they affect, so we would be led to believe, the rights of others seeking justice or other goals.
The problem for Davis is that she had many options to express integrity with her beliefs, and she chose to take the path that accomplished nothing. The judge told her before sentencing her that she could appoint any of her deputy clerks to issue the marriage licenses. She refused to do so.
Her incarceration will not advance the cause of those holding her beliefs, nor will it prevent same-sex marriage licenses from being issued in her county. The “world” noticing her serves no purpose.
Some who have commented have observed that Davis swore to uphold the Constitution with her hand on a Bible; they argue that she didn’t swear to uphold the Bible with her hand on the Constitution.
Having an opinion that you are “right” does not always mean you should act on that opinion. History, however, thank goodness, has sometimes proven otherwise.
Kudos, Ms. Davis, for having the courage of your convictions. You should have simply resigned your position.
Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980. He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website.
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