In June this year, America came of age.
In a landmark case, Obergefell v. Hodges, the US Supreme Court held, in a 5–4 decision, that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution and was thus legal and must be allowed to be registered at county clerks’ offices throughout the land. (Same-sex marriages became legal in the developed world, starting with The Netherlands, as early as in 2001.
The US Supreme Court was bowing to the times and catching up with majority American public opinion, which supports same-sex marriage rights (though not overwhelmingly as in other developed nations). 40% of Americans are still anti-same-sex marriage, most of them probably even anti-gay.
For a few hours after the ruling, it seemed that an essentially right-wing evangelist Christian nation had finally acknowledged what it’s own God has been trying to say all along – that gays and lesbians are normal folks who deserve the right to live the way they choose, just as Mormons can have multiple wives and the Amish can send their children to their own schools.
But America is America, a nation that takes individual rights to great heights. It is the only nation in the world where you can walk into a bar, carrying three firearms, plonk the loaded Glock on the counter and reach for your drink.
The day after the Supreme Court ruling, Kim Davis, a clerk for Rowan County, Kentucky, began refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, citing her religious beliefs as an Apostolic Christian. She received a court order which she disregarded. In response last week, Davis was held in contempt of court and spent Labor Day weekend in jail. She has not been the only one – there have been other clerks who have similarly refused, but they resigned unlike Davis, who insists on staying in her job.
Now a Joan of Arc-like hero among evangelical Christians, Republican Party members, Tea Party members and assorted other kooks, Davis has been set free and is back at work, as I understand. Her supporters say she should not be forced to comply with a law that violates her religious sentiments. Her critics say the rule of law requires that she either issues the licenses or she resigns.
Kim Davis is an elected official and therefore cannot be fired. The only way she can be removed from her job is to impeach her (by the Kentucky legislature), for which the legislature has to call a special session. From what I’ve heard, the state legislature is in fact being called back in session – not to impeach her, but to pass a law allowing her to stay in the job and not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She is being rewarded for breaking the law and refusing to do her $80,000 a year job.
All Republican Party Presidential candidates, whose main support comes from the Bible Belt, have signed a joint pledge vowing to overturn the Supreme Court decision.
As if it wasn’t divided enough, this is another fracture in the crumbling façade of the world’s most influential political party – The Republican Party of America. Outsiders like me are amused at this long-running soap opera called the GOP, which like most other TV soaps, is getting more and more ridiculous as the decades go by.
Others are left wondering about Christianity – if a religion can stop folks from doing as they please, even when they are not harming others or compromising their moral values, then what kind of a religion is it? How legitimate is that religion in today’s world? What right does that religion have, to criticize other faiths which require women to walk around looking like penguins, covered from head to toe in burqas?
After Davis was released, there was a rally in her honor. Folks had descended in the thousands from all over America, to cheer her. Presidential hopeful, Mike Huckabee, was seen on the stage, holding up Kim Davis’s hands. Another Republican pretender, Ted Cruz, was heard eulogizing Kim Davis’s breaking of American rule of law – a commodity that Americans might have to entrust him with if, God forbid, he happens to win the Presidency in 2016.
Right-wing commentators are seeing this debate as a crucial one, when there are far more serious issues facing America today. They are happy to see people like Huckabee and Cruz defending Kim Davis. They are thrilled that she shoved the constitution aside and swore to uphold the Bible, instead of placing her hand on the Bible and swearing to uphold the constitution.
I am amazed at the American system, where the taxpayers elect an official and pay her $80,000 a year to do her job and she chooses not to do it, gets to keep her salary and the county has to find someone else to do the job, while leaders who hope to be President, cheer her on. Not to mention the embarrassment and indignity that a gay couple would face when they arrived at the county office, hoping to be served and being refused instead.
I thought that when a nation’s highest court passes a law, the debate ceases. Not in America. No less than 40% of all Americans feel that Kim Davis was right in refusing to sign same-sex marriage licenses. This is not a majority but it is still an abominably high percentage of folks that are dangerously afflicted with tunnel vision. They feel that the Supreme Court was wrong. If Kim Davis runs for Republican Party Presidential nominee, she might lick the other kooks, including Donald Trump.
Emma Green, of The Atlantic, has written an article titled Kim Davis is Winning, claiming that the optics of a clearly sincere and devout middle-aged, matronly woman who is trying to lead a virtuous life and being jailed for it, is a powerful one which draws sympathy for her, from not only the religious right but also the fence-sitters.
Some observers are wondering what will happen next in America – will a Muslim county official refuse to issue a drivers license to a woman? Will Quaker county clerks join hands and refuse to issue gun licenses? Will this spread to the private sector and enable florists and bakers and dry-cleaners to refuse services to say, a Hindu, because Hindus practice idol worship? Kim Davis is a divorced woman – surely, Christianity frowns upon divorce, does it not? So she can be said to have double standards, right?
Through American history, whenever there has been a reform and advancement in civil rights, such as racial justice or women’s rights, there has been a large number of redneck rightists who have come out of the woodwork to oppose it and carve out for themselves a right to discriminate under the banner of ‘religious freedom’, even though the laws said otherwise.
But then, maybe America is further gone than I think it is – I understand that the judge who jailed Kim Davis is a Republican Party appointee and wonder of wonders – Kim Davis is an elected Democrat! The governor of Kentucky too is a Democrat. So I was wrong about the Kim Davis fiasco being a simple Republican issue, though the Republican Party does have the religious hard right as it’s primary vote bank.
Maybe this long-running Republican-Democrat two-party political system is an engineered pantomime. Like the enactments of the Civil War that Americans love to dress up for and indulge in during hot summer afternoons, complete with bugles and canons, the American political system too must be an enactment of some sort, where roles are carefully laid out for both sides, their joint endeavor – to fool the American public.
Kim Davis thinks that she might have a back-up – the UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the US is a signatory. In the charter, the right to conscience says :
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
In broad terms, this could be used to defend Kim Davis’s claim to the right to practice her religious beliefs anywhere, even in office. But the conscientious objector status was created keeping military conscription in mind and not day-to-official duties. Giving the freedom to every government employee to essentially say, ‘F—k you, I don’t want to do my job but I still want to get paid for it’ was certainly not the goal of the UN Charter.
Regardless, the Republican Party’s support for Kim Davis and therefore religious freedom over the law of the land, looks to me like another nail in it’s coffin. Increasingly it seems that 2016 will not be an election for the Republicans to win. Instead, it will be an election for the Democrats to lose.
At the end of the day, America is supposed to be a nation that professes to be based upon the rule of law, which demands following the law. Whatever America may seem to itself, to the rest of the world it certainly is one long 200-year TV soap that everybody outside the United States is starting to get tired of.
Finally, here’s my message to the Kim Davises out there –
That is a Government Office you work in, not a Church. And you are paid by the people, to serve the people. Get off your butt and start obeying the law.’