She’s back — but what happens now?
That is the question on the minds of all Rowan County watchers. There, in small-town Kentucky, clerk Kim Davis went to jail earlier this month rather than issue marriage licenses in the wake of the Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage. Davis, an Apostolic Christian, said her faith prevented her from blessing such unions, so she refused to issue any licenses despite a court order. This landed her in jail for contempt of court.
Last week, after five days behind bars, Davis triumphantly emerged arm-in-arm with Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee to the strains of “Eye of the Tiger” — and, though clerks have been issuing licenses in her absence — with a bit of ambiguity about what would happen when she returned to her job.
Now, Davis will return to work Monday morning as legal questions linger. And a billboard in Morehead, Ky., where her office is located, openly mocks her.
The billboard appeared over the weekend. It read: “Dear Kim Davis, the fact that you can’t sell your daughter for three goats and a cow means we’ve already redefined marriage” — an apparent reference to biblical verses that permit the selling of women.
As the billboard said, this was the work of Planting Peace — a Kansas-based nonprofit “founded for the purpose of spreading peace in a hurting world.” The group is perhaps best known for painting a house across from the notoriously homophobic Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka.
“The intent of the billboard is to expose this narrow interpretation by Davis and others that they use to defend their discrimination against the LGBTQ community,” a statement on Planting Peace’s Web site read. “It is important and relevant to call this out, because these messages and actions are not simply about a political or religious debate. There are LGBTQ youth across the world who are taking their lives at an alarming rate because of these messages from society that make them feel broken or less than. We have to meet hate with love … intolerance with compassion.”
“We put up this billboard just kind of reminding her that from a religious perspective, the definition of marriage has been constantly changing, and this isn’t actually about religion,” Davis Hammit, operations director of Planting Peace, told Reuters. “We’re talking about government-issued marriage licenses here.”
The billboard will remain up for one month. While Davis might or might not take offense, what may prove potentially more flammable is what she plans to do next. First, there were reports that the Oath Keepers — the armed activist group that arrived in Ferguson, Mo., last month in the wake of protests on the anniversary of Michael Brown’s shooting — might show up to support the clerk. The Oath Keepers changed their mind about that over the weekend.
“Oath Keepers has been contacted by Kim Davis’ legal team at Liberty Counsel, and they have, on her behalf, declined our offer of assistance in protecting her from a possible repeat incarceration by Federal District Court judge David Bunning,” the group said in a statement, as Morehead State University’s WMKY reported. “We will, of course, respect her wishes, and are hereby issuing a stand-down for our security volunteers who were planning on deploying to Morehead, Kentucky on Monday.”
While the Oath Keepers’ retreat made the threat of disruption less apparent, it still wasn’t clear whether Davis would direct her staff to stop issuing licenses. Upon her release, her attorney said the clerk can’t be associated with same-sex marriage.
“She cannot allow her name to be associated with something that conflicts with God’s definition of marriage,” Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, the “religious freedom” organization representing Davis, said at her victory rally.
Rowan County marriage licenses were in fact altered to remove Davis’s name — but if she returned to work without stopping same-sex couples from receiving marriage licenses, wouldn’t that mean that her name was being “associated” with the licenses anyway?
Her legal team seemed to think there might be wiggle room. Judge Bunning clarified that his order directing Davis to issue marriage licenses applied to all couples who apply for them — not just ones who sued her. Davis’s attorneys have appealed that clarification and asked for delay while the appeal is decided.
Some didn’t think much of the strategy.
“I hate to use a religious metaphor, given the circumstances,” Sam Marcosson, a constitutional law professor at the University of Louisville, told the Associated Press last week, “but this strikes me as a Hail Mary pass.”
And over the whole affair hangs Bunning’s two-page order releasing Davis. Last week, he was satisfied that her office was complying with his order. But that could change.
Davis “shall not interfere in any way, directly or indirectly, with the efforts of her deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples” in Rowan County, the judge wrote. If she does interfere, the court will consider “appropriate sanctions.”
Still, it appears Davis may yet fight on.
“I don’t know exactly what she is going to do,” Staver told CNN on Sunday. “That is Kim’s ultimate decision.”