Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who was jailed on Thursday for defying a court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, had already been something of a celebrity among many of the Republican presidential candidates. But Davis' current predicament, in jail until she either accepts the court order or resigns, has turned her into a full on mascot for the push to curtail the rights of LGBTQ people in the name of religious liberty.
Mike Huckabee was predictably hyperbolic in his read on the case. "Having Kim Davis in federal custody removes all doubt of the criminalization of Christianity in our country. We must defend religious liberty and never surrender to judicial tyranny," he wrote on Facebook. "I am proud of Kim for standing strong for her beliefs. Who will be next? Pastors? Photographers? Caterers? Florists? This is a reckless, appalling, out-of-control decision that undermines the Constitution of the United States and our fundamental right to religious liberty."
Ted Cruz struck a similar note in his own statement. "Those who are persecuting Kim Davis believe that Christians should not serve in public office. That is the consequence of their position. Or, if Christians do serve in pubic office, they must disregard their religious faith—or be sent to jail," the Texas senator said. "Kim Davis should not be in jail. We are a country founded on Judeo-Christian values, founded by those fleeing religious oppression and seeking a land where we could worship God and live according to our faith, without being imprisoned for doing so."
And Bobby Jindal, who has also been sued for taking his own liberties with, well, religious liberty, called Bunning's order discrimination. "I don't think anyone should have to choose between following their conscience and religious beliefs and giving up their job and facing financial sanctions. I think it's wrong to force Christian individuals or business owners," he told the Huffington Post. "We are seeing government today discriminate against whether it's clerks, florists, musicians or others. I think that's wrong. I think you should be able to keep your job and follow your conscience."
But before being ordered to jail, Davis was offered, at the request of the couple suing her, the option to leave custody if she agreed not to interfere with the deputies issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. The compromise was simple: she wouldn't have to issue licenses, but she couldn't stop others in her office from doing so. But she refused. Davis "would not make any representation" to allow gay and lesbian couples to receive licenses, her lawyer told U.S. District Judge Daniel Bunning. It was only then that Davis was held in contempt of court.
“The court cannot condone the willful disobedience of its lawfully issued order,” said Bunning, a George W. Bush appointee. “If you give people the opportunity to choose which orders they follow, that’s what potentially causes problems.”
Bunning's ruling against Davis' religious liberty claim is being hailed as a victory for equal rights. And it is, of course. Davis' deputies, who also appeared in court and faced possible fines, agreed to uphold the law and begin issuing licenses to all couples. And, as of Friday morning, at least two were able to obtain a license.
But it's also a victory for something basic, though ultimately very boring: government officials doing their jobs.
If Davis had refused to issue licenses plates to Kentucky drivers because her sincerely held religious conviction was that cars are very, very bad, Bunning would have issued an identical ruling: do what is required of you as a government official, or get another job. Davis, so far, has chosen neither option.
Meanwhile, this is what it looked like in her office Friday morning: