ON US TV today (Sept. 22), the clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to ANY couple because she didn’t believe in same sex marriage has said what hurts her most about how she has been treated since she defied the Supreme Court ruling on marriage in June – being called ‘a hypocrite’.
Kim Davis of Rowan County, Kentucky, has been jailed, received a ‘Religious Liberty’ award for fighting ‘legal tyranny’, been called ‘the bravest woman in America‘ and compared to Abraham Lincoln by her lawyer. She has also been called a martyr and a victim of anti-Christian persecution. She even admitted denying marriage licences to friends, and receiving death threats.
All because she believes in her Christian duty to break the oath she took as a US Government official to uphold the law, in a country whose constitution explicitly forbids the primacy of any religion. The First Amendment clearly states that the US government cannot make any law ‘respecting an establishment of religion.’ In the words of the Supreme Court, this generally means that the government can’t ‘pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another,’ or otherwise become entangled in religious affairs.
I have refrained from comment on this sorry saga until now, but three months on it lingers, generating more heat than light about the real issue at stake. The volume of coverage of her protests has been huge – on the website where I read about today’s interview alone, there are almost 120 articles about her.
Then Bobby, the brother of a young man I once supported in the LGBT youth group I worked with for 10 years, posted on Facebook about what his gay brother and partner have been through. I have asked the young man’s permission to share this story, as I think it deserves to be told just as much as that of Kim Davis.
Michael lived in Liverpool, UK, until he fell in love with a man, Carl, who lived in the USA. Michael visited America as much as he could to see Carl, despite barriers set by US Immigration that he would not have faced if his American partner were female. Bobby describes witnessing Michael slump into ‘a year-long crippling depression’, when suicide seems like a real possibility.
Michael applied to study in America, and got a visa by lying that his relationship with Carl had ended, but they were finally able to be together. After a year living in Washington State, they were married. Michael spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours renovating an empty building to run his own café/bistro – Canyon Coffeehouse in Zillah, Washington. Before long he had hired a manager and five staff, and received praise for the high quality of food and service, to rival what you would expect in any big US city. But Michael was happy in Zillah with Carl.
Then the US Supreme Court voted to legalise same sex marriage nationwide. Bobby says:
This should have been a cause for celebration, but instead in Zillah, there was a kneejerk reaction, and because Michael doesn’t hide the fact that he’s in love with Carl, rightfully so, he became a target for a lot of hate groups.
He became known as ‘the fag who owns the café’. He has over fifty five-star reviews for his bistro, but he also has two one-stars, one of them saying ‘the food was really delicious, but there should be a warning that you could get AIDS if you eat there’.
Michael’s business began to decline – he discovered two local churches and several local businesses boycotted the cafe because he is married to Carl, including a priest who told his congregation:
If you eat in the Canyon Coffeehouse, you’ll be supporting a sinful lifestyle.
Michael has since decided to close his cafe. Bobby writes:
I always thought the American dream is all about having a family and a business and giving back to the community. Michael did all that but was still shunned because of something that happens to be in a book that’s TWO THOUSAND years old…
THE NEXT TIME SOME CHRISTIAN IS TALKING ABOUT BEING PERSECUTED BECAUSE SHE REFUSED TO DO THE JOB IN WHICH SHE’S PAID TO DO BECAUSE GOD TOLD HER NOT TO, AND SO WAS RIGHTFULLY CHARGED, SHE SHOULD REALLY THINK ABOUT WHAT PERSECUTION IS…
It’s very evil for a group of people to organize an active petition against somebody, especially people who are supposed to practice the finest fundamental values in a human being.
I couldn’t agree more. In my message to Michael I wrote:
I just want you to know, I feel proud to have known you and sad that the system has allowed all this to happen to you. And for what it’s worth, as leader of an inclusive LGBT Christian group in Liverpool, I want to say, not in my name. Take care of yourself and the man you love. You are an inspiration.
Let’s be clear – I don’t condone the extreme language and death threats against Kim Davis any more than I do the behaviour of those who claim to be doing good in refusing marriage licences or boycotting businesses because of ignorance, prejudice and a distorted understanding of what it means to ‘love your neighbour’.
But Kim is not truly being persecuted, or at least not without provocation. She is part of a privileged group – white, middle class, Christian – who is abusing her authority and power in the name of religion at the expense of people like Michael whose minority status means their stories are seldom heard as loudly as those who hold the power. Her actions mock those who are being truly persecuted and martyred around the world, whether for their Christian beliefs, or because of their sexual orientation. She would do well to heed the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.
This is America – The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. I don’t think Kim appreciates how much freedom she has been given to discriminate against those with whom she disagrees, and I don’t think she is the brave one out of these two stories.
America – the #LoveWins campaign may have won the Supreme Court battle for same sex marriage, but love has not truly won until religious belief, sexual orientation, marital status or anything else makes any difference to any citizens rights and freedoms.