While Kentucky clerk Kim Davis insists that her decision to break the law by ordering her office to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples “has never been a gay or lesbian issue,” the right-wing legal group defending Davis, Liberty Counsel, has made no secret of its contempt for gays and lesbians. Liberty Counsel, which is closely tied to Liberty University, the school founded by Jerry Falwell, has urged Davis to flout the law and defy the courts.
The way Liberty Counsel sees it, the Supreme Court’s landmark Obergefell decision is illegitimate and can be ignored. In a lawsuit that Liberty Counsel filed for Davis against the governor of Kentucky, the group claims that Davis cannot act “in contradiction to the moral law of God, natural law, or her sincerely held religious beliefs and convictions” without violating her oath of office.
Liberty Counsel adds that the enforcement of the marriage equality ruling is inherently unconstitutional as it “creates a religious (or anti-religious) test for holding office — which the United States and Kentucky Constitutions expressly forbid.”
By invoking “God’s authority” even after the Supreme Court rejected her appeals, Davis is echoing Liberty Counsel’s argument that her own interpretation of divine law trumps whatever the courts say, and as a public official she must follow this higher authority.
Davis has now become a figure that Liberty Counsel uses to claim that Christians in America are not only facing oppression, but have no need to follow the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage.
If Davis can defy the courts, Liberty Counsel chairman Mat Staver argues, then other elected officials can turn their counties (or cities and states) into “sanctuary cities” safe from gay marriage. “If they come out with a decision that is contrary to God’s natural created order,” Staver said before the court ruled in Obergefell, “I personally will advocate disobedience to it … and collectively, we cannot accept that as the rule of law.”
Staver is no stranger to anti-gay activism, as he has predicted that President Obama will impose “forced homosexuality” upon the nation, regularly likened gay people to terrorists, labeled the gay rights movement as “demonic” and defended countries that outlaw same-sex relationships.
He has also been intent on finding an anti-gay version of Rosa Parks who can become a model for others. Staver believes that anti-gay activists must act like Rosa Parks and launch a new Civil Rights Movement.
Before the Supreme Court’s ruling, Staver called on officials to practice civil disobedience if it ruled “the wrong way” and to tell the court, “Goodbye, get out of my state, that’s not what’s going to happen to my state.” He urged elected officials to “go back to the days of Martin Luther King Jr., go back to the days of the American Revolution” in defying marriage equality.
“This is the thing that revolutions literally are made of,” Staver said in 2012, anticipating a Supreme Court ruling like Obergefell. “This would be more devastating to our freedom, to our religious freedom, to the rights of pastors and their duty to be able to speak and to Christians around the country, than anything that the revolutionaries during the American Revolution even dreamed of facing. This would be the thing that revolutions are made of. This could split the country right in two. This could cause another civil war.”
He has even likened the refusal to abide by marriage equality to defying the Nazi government, urging conservatives to emulate German dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer and refuse to respect gay marriage just as they wouldn’t turn over a Jew to the Nazis. “You cannot obey something that is contrary to God’s law,” he said in March. “And we would easily say, well, what would happen if the government forced you turn over a Jew in Nazi Germany? All of us would say we wouldn’t do that, we wouldn’t listen to that. Well, we’re about ready to walk into the moment.”
The Davis case isn’t the first time that Staver’s legal team has urged a client to break the law in order to abide by what it claims is God’s law. His group once represented Lisa Miller, a self-proclaimed “ex-gay,” in a child custody dispute with her former partner. The Liberty Counsel instructors at Liberty University’s Law School reportedly told their students that they must follow God’s law over U.S. law in such a case and Miller did just that, violating the terms of the custody agreement, which caused the courts to then transfer custody of their daughter to Miller’s former partner. Once again defying the courts, Miller then fled the country with the child, travelling to Canada and then ultimately to Central America, sparking an international kidnapping case.
Now, it seems that Kim Davis has emerged as the anti-gay Rosa Parks that Staver and other conservative leaders have been longing to find and use as a test case for their radical view of the Constitution.