Jailing Kim Davis and creating a cause

I’ll still stand by yesterday’s guess, that the rally round imprisoned county clerk Kim Davis Joe Davis speaks in support of his wife Kim Davis, who is being held in contempt of court for defying a federal judge's order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, outside the Carter County Detention Center in Grayson, Kentucky.will be relatively small and relatively brief.  But today, The Daily News reports that roughly 200 supporters rallied in Grayson, Kentucky to protest her imprisonment.  And to pray. Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has promised to meet with Davis to show his support.  (Gay marriage supporters demonstrated as well!)

You see, Judge David Bunning’s decision to jail Davis shifted the balance of suffering.  Up until yesterday, only people who wanted to get married in Rowan County were suffering for Kim Davis’s religious beliefs.  The County clerk had defied a Federal Court order to allow her office to issue marriage licenses, and worked the legal system to try to protect her choice.  Davis got no support from the legal system. Judge Bunning gave her the chance to prove her commitment by suffering for the cause; she took it.  Meanwhile, her staff commenced issuing licenses.  (Davis’s lawyers say they aren’t valid, by the way.) Insulted, demeaned, and delayed, the betrothed no longer had a grievance.  Meanwhile, Kim Davis’s willingness to suffer for her beliefs inspires her supporters.

Does it last?  If you want to work in government, you have to play by its rules.  Long ago, Alabama Governor George Wallace honored his campaign promise to stand in the school house door to block racial integration.  It was quite a show, but Governor Wallace stood aside when ordered by the federal government–backed with the force of the National Guard.  He remained in office, and he continued to campaign against integration, even running for president on a state’s rights platform in 1968.  Later, there was a change of heart, but at this point, we see that he wanted to keep his job and acceded to the law.

More than a decade ago, another committed Christian was removed from office in Alabama.  Roy Moore, then Chief Justice of the state’s supreme court, was removed from office by Alabama’s judicial ethics panel for defying a federal court order and refusing to remove a massive granite monument to the 10 commandments that he’d had installed in the court house.  (The Constitution prohibits government from endorsing any religion–even if it’s the most popular one in the country, state, or county…)

This was not the end of Judge Moore’s career, not by a long shot.  Apparently, defying the federal judiciary is still good politics in some parts of America.  After a failed campaign for governor, and a flirtation with his own presidential campaign, Moore ran for Chief Justice again in 2012–and won.

By the way, you might not be surprised to hear that CJ Moore also opposes same sex marriage, and has advised probate judges in the state to disregard the Supreme Court, sticking instead with Alabama law which restricts marriage to mixed sex couples.  The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed an ethics complaint against the Chief Justice….resolution pending.

Standing up against the federal government sometimes makes for good politics–locally–at least for a while.  But a government payroll won’t provide a foundation for that defiance–at least not for very long.


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Martyrs, heroes, and the government

You know why we have a division between Church and State? Wackadoos like Kentucky’s County Clerk Kim Davis who refuses to issue same-sex marriage licenses.(littlegreenfootballs.com photo) 

Social conservatives opposed to gay marriage have to decide what to do with Kim Davis, now sitting in a jail cell because she refused to issue marriage licenses–to anyone.  She also refused to authorize anyone else in her office to issue those licenses as well.

For Kim Davis, this is an easy decision–although choosing to go to jail never seems easy.  Whatever the Supreme Court says the Constitution says, Ms. Davis, elected as Rowan County Clerk (Kentucky), knows that God doesn’t want men to marry anyone but women.  She’s said as much to couples eager to tie the law: God’s law trumps (pardon the expression) all else.

Although mixed gender marriage doesn’t bother her (cheap shot: she’s done it four times!), she stopped issuing all marriage licenses because she didn’t want to be charged with discrimination.

Some have been ready to rally around her and the cause, describing her as an American hero.  See, for example, Caleb Parke’s entry on FoxNation.  For Parke, Davis is honoring America, God, the Constitution, and democracy:

Mrs. Davis is one of the most heroic and brave Americans right now. She’s honoring the God of the Bible like our Founding Fathers, like Martin Luther King, Jr., like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the book of Daniel, and like many saints who have gone before her. She will not bow to the Supreme Court. She bows to the Supreme Being.

Desperate for attention and the fealty of social conservative voters, some Republican presidential hopefuls have heaped on their support, most notably Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz.  Many other conservatives, however, say that the rule of law requires her to do her job–or to let others do it.

Heroic comparisons are difficult.  Leaving aside the Biblical references (how about: “render unto Caesar…”), Martin Luther King also went to jail for violating local laws, but he wasn’t working for the government when doing so, and he explicitly claimed not only God’s support, but also that of the Constitution and the Supreme Court.  (Read that wonderful “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and see.)  The first amendment protects religious expression of individuals, not the government, nor someone acting as an agent for the government.  The Bill of Rights is written as a set of constraints on government to protect the people.

The Court has been wrong in interpreting the Constitution in the past–certainly by the lights of contemporary wisdom–but the Court gets to interpret it.  The four justices who disagreed with the majority on the Constitutionality of same sex marriage haven’t expressed any concern with the Court’s role in interpreting the Constitution or offered even a glimmer of support or sympathy for Davis’s resistance.

But the law and the Constitution are likely less important to activists and politicians in deciding their stances on the matter.  Senator Cruz, who went to law school, surely knows better, but he’s announced that he’s standing with Davis (albeit, not in jail):

Today, judicial lawlessness crossed into judicial tyranny…Today, for the first time ever, the government arrested a Christian woman for living according to her faith.

What about Dorothy Day?  Or Sister Megan Rice?  They are surely devout religious women who spent serious time in jail for living the Gospel in opposition to war and nuclear weapons.

But let’s leave Cruz, and get back to the point.

Opponents of gay marriage have hardly been unified behind Kim Davis.  Why?

On one hand, she’s an imperfect icon for social conservatives (Democrat, multiple marriages).

On another, stepping back even treatment from the state is laden with risk.  What happens when a pacifist Quaker clerk stops issuing gun licenses?

Movements always have to figure out how to handle their most enthusiastic supporters.  You see, sometimes they’re crazy.

Federal District Judge David L. Bunning (a Republican opponent of same sex marriage), may have done the cause a favor by putting her in jail while she’s in contempt of court.  In jail, she’s suffering for her beliefs, much more visibly than paying fines (with the aid of better funded allies).  Out of jail, she’s only imposing suffering on others–for her beliefs.

For now, it’s a small rally.

I’ll be surprised if it continues long in this way or gets very large.

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After Obergefell: A Contexts Symposium

I’m one of a bunch of social scientists weighing in on the effects of the Supreme Court http://contexts.org/files/2015/05/Cover-Spring-2016-231x0-c-default@1x.pngdecision on same sex marriage.  The sponsor is Contexts, a sociology journal explicitly charged with addressing contemporary issues and addressing a broader audience–not just academics.

The contributors include experts on the family, gender, sexuality, adoption, and the law.  I think it’s interesting stuff.  Take a look:



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The new politics of gay marriage, 2 (the losers).

The Obergefell decision was a resounding defeat for opponents of same sex marriage, and the groups at the core of the anti-equality (traditional marriage?) movement are casting about for new ways to continue their battle.  It’s going to be tough.

Social movement organizers promote urgency and optimism in order to mobilize support. This means emphasizing both the threat represented by opponents and the prospect that coordinated action can lead to political victory. But projecting optimism and the prospect for influence has just become far more difficult. Outrage only last for so long as a motivator.  Although saints and psychopaths are willing to continue to fight for a lost cause, most people want to believe their efforts might matter.

The campaigners against homogamy haven’t gotten used to losing, and until relatively recently, they haven’t had to.

Until 2003, when the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (Goodrich v. Department of Health) established marriage equality, opponents were used to winning, in courts, in the legislatures, and particularly in referenda and ballot initiatives. Even after Massachusetts, advocates of traditional marriage continued to win until the last few years, when opinions changed and the political winds shifted dramatically.

Many opponents conceded ground on civil unions and civil rights, seeking (unsuccessfully) to forestall demands for marriage.
Increasingly, marriage equality opponents have endured defections.  (Two years ago, I posted: how the anti-gay movement faces defeat.) A few Republican notables admitted that coming to know gay people, often their sons and daughters, helped change their minds over time. As opinions shifted, even a few core activists began to reconsider. Look at David Blankenhorn, a long time campaigner for traditional marriage. Blankenhorn was the “expert” witness against gay marriage in 2010 in the federal court trial on California’s Proposition 8. The failure to find other experts, and the judge’s ruling to dismiss Blankenhorn’s testimony as “untrustworthy” was a signal that things weren’t going his way.


By 2012, provoking opposition from longtime allies, Blankenhorn announced that he had changed his mind. Making a virtue of necessity, he redefined his priorities. Traditional marriage was still the best, he said, but preserving its exclusivity was a lost cause that had taken on a nasty anti-gay animus. Abandoning a failed strategy, he announced that he wanted to try something new, “to help build new coalitions bringing together gays who want to strengthen marriage with straight people who want to do the same.”  (I haven’t yet seen reports of that coalition’s efforts.)


Falling back and redefining the policy frontier like this is one obvious strategy for survival. Several of the Republican aspirants for the presidency have already signaled that they are adopting this tack (Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Lindsay Graham, Marco Rubio).  While describing their disappointment, they’ve acknowledged the court’s decision as law, and called for a focus on protecting the liberties of religious people, presumably the liberty to discriminate against gay people.  This stance might reflect an honest appraisal of American opinion and/or a calculation about potential electoral support.

But others in the party have called for redoubling their efforts politically, or even sponsoring a Constitutional amendment (Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz, Scott Walker).  (By the way, you want your opponents spending their time and money on trying to amend the Constitution.)  Again, this may reflect their honest (if not particularly perceptive) evaluation of American opinion and/or a calculation about their potential base of support.

At this point it looks like the anti-marriage equality groups are still in the outrage phase.
Concerned Women for America compared the decision to Supreme Court rulings of the past that they see as outrageous, like Dred Scott (compelling the return of escaped slaves) or Roe v. Wade, but expressed confidence that with hard work, they could change the culture back… The National Organization for Marriage declared the Obergefell decision illegitimate, and announced a campaign to defend the first amendment (as a right to discriminate.)  Meanwhile, religious conservatives have declared that they will redouble their efforts to bring Christian values back to the political realm, recruiting pastors to run for office (e.g., American Renewal Project).

They face a tough road ahead.  Tearing up the court papers from the Court decision and stomping on them might play well with the stalwarts–for a while–but it’s not likely to reach beyond those who already agree–a diminishing population.

Meanwhile,  the increased visibility of gay couples, and the World Cup victory of the US women’s soccer team are likely to create favorable facts on the ground. The remaining of a marriage ban for gays and lesbians will demand more comprehensive statements of principle that will make converting others even more difficult. The groups will need to choose between finding new support and servicing an increasingly homogenous and demanding base. It’s a tough prospect that leads to ugly politics.


We can get some hints about how this all plays out by looking at Massachusetts, where court-ordered marriage equality has been in effect for more than a decade. Although the Goodridge decision provoked a powerful backlash, the opposition faltered over time. The Massachusetts Family Institute, an affiliate of the national organization, Focus on the Family, promotes “natural marriage,” and vows to fight on, battling generally for religious freedom (to discriminate).  The Massachusetts group is highlighting a campaign against sex education in the schools, while the national group has highlighted God’s displeasure with the decision, offering people the chance to contribute money to fight it.  The Coalition for Marriage and Family, which thrived in the wake of the backlash to Goodridge, is still around and still opposes same sex marriage, but is also pursuing a broader agenda including public education on traditional values and opposing abortion. Each organization supports a very small staff on a very tight budget. Meanwhile, Massachusetts Citizens for Marriage, which sponsored a constitutional amendment in advance of the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision, has disappeared. Also vanished into the internet ether is VoteOnMarriage, a failed campaign after the Goodridge decision to let the voters weigh in.

All this suggests that organized opposition to gay marriage won’t disappear, but will become smaller, more shrill, and less significant over time.

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The new politics of gay marriage, 1.

The battle over marriage equality was never only about marriage. The activists and organizations at the core of movements for and against state recognition of homogamyImage result for marriage equality wanted more, much more. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision (Obergefell v. Hodges), the questions are all about finding the next political battlegrounds.


Marriage and military service didn’t become the major frontiers for the gay and lesbian rights by consensus, but by effective demonstration. Intentionally or not, the architects of the campaigns for access to two major and fundamentally conservative institutions found a recipe for tapping into conventional values even as they challenged them. Once one side starts to make progress–getting attention, mobilizing support, even winning small victories—their opponents are virtually forced to join the same battle. Positions polarize and harden, and the stance on marriage equality, for example, becomes a litmus test for a host of other values.

The Supreme Court was always the target for the initiators of the movement, and as public opinion shifted dramatically in favor of marriage equality, it became the last line of defense for their opponents.

The Obergefell decision changes everything, although it may take a while for everyone to understand how. An authoritative national decision guaranteeing marriage equality means that all of the groups involved have to figure out what to do next. What do you do when you win?

Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry, who has been working this issue for decades, claimed victory and promised to close up shop, announcing that “…the work of this Freedom to Marry campaign is now accomplished. Over the next several months, Freedom to Marry will… strategically wind down its work and document lessons learned, and then close its doors, having achieved its goal of winning marriage nationwide.”



But celebrating a win and then going home almost never happens. Organizations survive. They adjust strategies, tactics, and goals, finding new ways to keep doing some version of what they’ve been doing. This makes sense. For most activists, the marriage campaign was part of a much larger agenda. Second, in pursuit of that agenda, they’ve built organizations and lives that are based around an ongoing battle. There are battles to be fought, Twitter feeds to fill, bills to pay—and, of course, fundraising campaigns to coordinate.
For the winners, groups like Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), Lamda Legal, and the Human Rights Campaign, next steps involve looking at the broader agenda and figuring out the issues that seem most promising or most urgent, those that can hold together the coalitions that supported marriage equality, win political traction, and command activist and funder support. The issues are already there: non-discrimination legislation, protections for transgender people, funding for AIDS education, treatment, and research, and support for youth. Each group will carve out a distinct mix of issues and approaches, and remind supporters that they are continuing the battle.

The challenge is to convince large numbers of people that the new frontiers are as urgent and as promising as marriage became.

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Tainted allies: The KKK weighs in

The worst thing that’s happened to the avowedly non-racist heritage supporters of the Confederate flag this week is the appearance of unwelcome support:  The Ku Klux Klan has been permitted to hold a rally in support of government display of the Confederate standard.Image result for south carolina confederate flag klan

In The Post and Courier, Schuyler Kropf reports that the Klan is well-prepared to fill in meanings between the lines of rather vaguely expressed sentiments about history and heritage.  Kropf called the local Klan’s Grand Dragon, Robert Jones, to understand the KKK’s attachment to the banner.  Jones explained that the murderer of 9 black people at church was a well-intentioned but misdirected warrior, who would have been more effective targeting more dangerous black people (drug dealers, robbers, rapists).  For Jones and the Klan, the flag is about promoting and protecting white culture and white history.

Supporters of the Confederate flag had been eager to promote a non-racialized version of the heritage symbol.  In this regard, black people willing to wave the flag are Embedded image permalinkparticularly valuable.  And they found some.

And then the Klan comes along and spoils it all.

The planned KKK rally is far more likely to prod legislators into striking the flag than the do-it-yourself efforts of Bree Newsome and James Tyson, which inspired those who already agreed with them.

When the lines are drawn and opinion polarizes, you look around at the people on your side to see if you’re standing with the cool kids or the creeps.  After assessing, sometimes you move.


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Strike the flag; direct action version

SALESOUT NARCH EUO MNDTYJust in case all those rainbow flags flying everywhere had obscured the Confederate flag still flying at the state capitol in South Carolina, Bree Newsome climbed the flag poll and took it down.  Police were on top of the situation, helping Newsome and the flag down, and arresting her and James Tyson, her spotter, in short order.

This was hardly the first project for the two activists from Charlotte.  Newsome, a filmmaker and musician, had been working in voting rights campaigns in North Carolina.   Tyson had been working in the environmental movement, and was also a veteran of Occupy Charlotte.

Image result for bree newsome james tysonThe viral video shows politeness and cooperation everywhere, but the activists were arrested, booked, and released by the end of the day.  Although their effort is unlikely to change a single vote in the state legislature, which is set to debate the flag next week, it did spur a wave of attention and support among flag opponents.

Michael Moore tweeted support, promising to pay legal fees and fines.  The NAACP issued a statement comparing their civil disobedience effort to those of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King.  And viral campaigns on numerous sites raised far more money than their legal defense is likely to cost.  The attention was even greater.

The  flag was back up on the monument within the hour; there wouldn’t have been a shortage of Confederate flags anyway. A few dozen demonstrators supporting the flag showed up shortly after Newsome and Tyson departed, demonstrating on behalf of heritage–whatever that means.

The pro-flag demonstrators proclaimed that they supported the honor of veterans, the traditions of the South, but most assuredly not racism or oppression.  Oddly, just this rationalization, however twisted, represents the very serious influence of the anti-flag campaigners. Having your opponents adopt your rhetoric and concede your claims, even if not quite accurately, is a part of victory.

Confederate Flag supporters rally at the South CarolinaMeanwhile Bree Newsome and James Tyson made sure the main story of the day was theirs, rather than that of their opponents, crowding the pro-flag demonstrators a little off to the corners of public attention.

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