A gay couple emerged from a county clerk’s office in Morehead, Kentucky, with a marriage license in hand early on Sept. 4, embracing and crying, as the defiant clerk who runs the office remained jailed for repeatedly refusing to allow the licenses to be issued.
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis has insisted that forcing her to affirm same-sex marriage violates her religious convictions as a born-again, fundamentalist Christian. To date, she’s lost her fight at every level of federal court, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
After being denied a marriage license four times prior, William Smith Jr. and James Yates, a couple for nearly a decade, were the first to receive one in Rowan County. Deputy clerk Brian Mason issued the license, congratulating the couple and shaking their hands as he smiled.
“This means at least for this area that civil rights are civil rights and they are not subject to belief,” Yates said.
A crowd of supporters cheered outside as the couple left, while a street preacher rained down words of condemnation. Yates and Smith said they are trying to choose between two wedding dates and plan a small ceremony at the home of Yates’ parents.
The licenses were issued after five of Davis’ deputy clerks agreed to provide them. The lone holdout in the office was Davis’ son, Nathan Davis. And Kim Davis’ office was dark as the first license was issued.
That’s because Kim Davis, at the time, was in jail for contempt of court.
During a hearing the day before, U.S. District Judge David Bunning ordered Davis to be taken to jail unless she promised not to interfere with her employees issuing licenses. She refused, citing her Christian beliefs.
Speaking to reporters, Davis’ fourth husband, Joe Davis, held a sign saying, “Welcome to Sodom and Gomorrah.” He said his wife was in good spirits after her first night in jail.
Kim Davis would spend four more nights in jail before Bunning released her on Sept. 8.
During that time, Davis, through her legal representation at the ultra-right-wing Liberty Counsel, sought legislative relief from abiding by federal law and the federal order. But Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear refused to call a special session of the Legislature, which will not convene until January 2016.
‘A good person’
Davis, an Apostolic Christian, wept during her testimony in court on Sept. 3, telling the judge she was “always a good person” and that she gave her heart to the Lord in 2011 and “promised to love Him with all my heart, mind and soul because I wanted to make heaven my home.”
“God’s moral law conflicts with my job duties,” Davis told the judge before she was taken away by a U.S. marshal. “You can’t be separated from something that’s in your heart and in your soul.”
But prior to finding Jesus and imposing what she believes to be his teachings on others, Davis led a life that critics have derided as ungodly. Internet commenters have lambasted Davis as a hypocrite for her multiple marriages and adulterous affairs. Her marital history reads like a soap opera plot: She became pregnant with twins by her third husband while married to her first husband. She then convinced her second husband to adopt them, before leaving him and marrying the twins’ father — only to leave him, too, for her fourth husband.
Davis is trying to raise money to cover her legal bills with the anti-gay Liberty Counsel. Gofundme.com refused to post an appeal on her behalf, citing its policy of not providing a platform for people who have broken the law.
The notorious anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church has joined the chorus of voices speaking out against Davis. Westboro members tweeted that Davis is going to hell along with the gay couples she refused to marry.
But around the country, other evangelical supporters reached for Biblical heroes, comparing Davis to Silas and Daniel, imprisoned for their faith and rescued by God.
It’s precisely the narrative gay rights advocates had hoped to avoid. But as Davis’ mug shot rocketed around the Internet, it became clear that the gay rights movement must battle the argument that Christianity is under siege, said Kenneth Upton, senior counsel for Lambda Legal, a civil liberties group focused on LGBT rights.
“This is what the other side wants,” Upton said, pointing to the image of Davis in handcuffs. “This is a Biblical story, to go to jail for your faith. We don’t want to make her a martyr to the people who are like her, who want to paint themselves as victims.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, representing couples Kim Davis turned away, had asked that she be fined rather than imprisoned, in part to avoid “a false persecution story,” said attorney Dan Canon.
But Bunning ordered her to jail anyway, reasoning that she would be unmoved by monetary penalties.
“I think he was trying to make an example of Kim Davis and he may well do so,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, which has been designated an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Courage breeds courage, especially when it comes from unlikely places. She may be the example that sparks a firestorm of resistance across this country.”
Chris Hartman, director of Louisville’s Fairness Campaign, dismissed the small number of holdout clerks as a “blip on the radar of civil rights.”
Since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide in June, only about 17 clerks and judges, many of them advised by the Liberty Counsel, have refused to comply. They stopped issuing marriage licenses to any couple, gay or straight. Davis was the first to be challenged in court.
Rosa Parks or George Wallace?
Yet Davis is suddenly famous around the globe as the face of Christian resistance to gay marriage.
After meeting with Davis in jail, Liberty Counsel attorney Mat Staver said “she is a prisoner of her conscience.” He quoted the letter Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from his Birmingham jail cell in 1963, rallying civil rights activists to challenge unjust laws and pay the consequences if necessary to force peaceful change.
He described Davis as the first American imprisoned for a religious objection to gay marriage.
The lawyers suing her dismissed that notion. “This is the billionth time a person has been jailed for violating a court order,” Canon said.
Historically, backlash has proven inevitable in the face of sweeping social change. When the Supreme Court ordered the integration of public schools in the 1960s, many local officials refused to comply with the ruling. The National Guard had to be sent to Southern cities and towns to escort African-American students into what were previously all-white schools. Racists cited biblical passages to justify their actions.
“It’s ironic when you think about it, when the basis of being oppressed is that people won’t let you discriminate anymore,” said Lambda Legal’s Upton. “It’s like an Alice in Wonderland world.”
Columbia Law School professor Katherine Franke, who has studied the intersection of public service and personal faith, said Davis has “elected to make herself a martyr.
And some in the crowded field of Republican presidential candidates are backing her. Candidate Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, visited Kentucky to meet with Davis and join demonstrators at a rally the day she was released from jail. Huckabee said, “We must end the criminalization of Christianity.”
Meanwhile, GOP candidates Carly Fiorina and Lindsey Graham said Davis should follow the law or resign.
And even some conservative veterans of “religious freedom” fights worried that Davis makes a bad case for martyrdom.
Her insistence on keeping her elected position while ignoring federal court orders was sharply criticized in the National Review and The American Conservative, and Russell Moore and Andrew T. Walker, who serve on the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote that “religious liberty itself will be imperiled” if people “cannot differentiate between the freedom to exercise one’s religion and the responsibility of agents of the state to carry out the law.”
Still, Perkins and others on the religious right promised that dozens of Kim Davises are ready to go to jail in defense of their religious freedoms.
Returning to office
Davis walked out of the Carter County Detention Center’s front door on Sept. 8, arm-in-arm with Staver and Huckabee as thousands of supporters cheered and waved white crosses backed by a 150-voice church choir. Some in the crowd sang “Amazing Grace” and “God Bless America.”
Bunning lifted the contempt ruling saying he was satisfied that her deputies were fulfilling their obligation to grant licenses to same-sex couples in her absence. But Bunning’s order was clear: If Davis interferes with the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples upon her return, she could go right back to jail.
As WiG went to press on Sept. 9, it was unclear whether Davis would follow Bunning’s order or continue to ignore the court and the law, as she repeatedly did before her jailing.
“I just want to give God the glory. His people have rallied, and you are a strong people,” Davis said after her release, her arms raised and with “Eye of the Tiger” playing.
Staver told the press that Davis “will not violate her conscience” and that she will not resign from her elected job, which pays $80,000 a year and which she inherited from her mother.
Staver also said the marriage licenses issued while Davis was jailed were not valid because they were not given under the authority of the county clerk, a claim the Kentucky attorney general’s office disputes.
‘Oaths mean things’
In jailing Kim Davis, a judge noted the Kentucky county clerk had sworn an oath to perform her job.
Here is the oath of office taken by Davis: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth, and be faithful and true to the Commonwealth of Kentucky so long as I continue a citizen thereof, and that I will faithfully execute, to the best of my ability, the office of … according to law; and I do further solemnly swear … that since the adoption of the present Constitution, I, being a citizen of this State, have not fought a duel with deadly weapons within this State nor out of it, nor have I sent or accepted a challenge to fight a duel with deadly weapons, nor have I acted as second in carrying a challenge, nor aided or assisted any person thus offending, so help me God.”
The Values Voter Summit that took place Oct. 11–13 was something of a homecoming for right-wing leaders.
For the progressives who gathered to protest, it was something of a fright fest.
“This event is put on by hate groups with really scary ideas about American values and no respect for equality and justice,” said Joshua Alcorn of Baltimore, who demonstrated outside the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 11, the first day of the three-day summit and the 11th day of the partial federal government shutdown.
“I would have hoped our elected officials would have had something better to do than to be here, stoking the fires,” said demonstrator Shawnee McMurphree of Washington.
The summit theme was “Standing for Faith, Family and Opportunity for All” and, in keeping with tradition, the event featured a straw poll for the next presidential election. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, won the poll with 42 percent of the vote. Ben Carson and Rick Santorum followed with 13 percent each.
Before the summit speeches began, the right-wing Liberty Counsel legal defense group hosted the Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition breakfast.
Opening day ceremonies featured Cruz and U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky. The first day also featured “The Future of Marriage” panel led by Tony Perkins, of the ultra-right Family Research Council, and Brian Brown, of the National Organization for Marriage.
Paul described a “war on Christianity” that U.S. foreign policy must address and Rubio said, “We can’t stop talking about the importance of our values and our culture. We can’t stop talking about them because the moral well-being of our people is directly linked to their economic well-being.”
Cruz told those gathered that the nation is on the edge of a cliff —— he was heckled during the speech, leading right-wing media to speculate operatives for President Barack Obama had infiltrated the event.
The Oct. 11 schedule did require some adjustment for speakers who did not attend, including U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who sent a video message explaining that as chair of the House budget committee “things are a little busy up here on Capitol Hill these days.”
In the message, he told conservative activists that he too is a “values voter” and what sets “us apart is our beliefs.” Ryan said those beliefs include rethinking “government’s role in our lives” and that includes ending the Affordable Care Act.
Many speakers, with the shutdown imposed and a deadline to act on the debt ceiling approaching, focused on money issues on the mainstage, but outside the spotlight there was plenty of focus on marriage, abortion and the other hot-button issues that drove the so-called “values voters” to D.C.
Throughout the event there were breakfast gatherings, worship sessions, banquets, luncheons, book-signings, workshops, receptions and speeches, including by U.S. Reps. Jim Bridenstine, Louie Gohmert, Jim Jordan and Steve Scalis, as well as Fox personalities Allen West, Mike Huckabee, Todd Starnes and others.
Program topics included “What is Marriage … Really?” “Getting America Back to Great,” “The Erosion of Religious Liberties in the Public Square,” “Responding to the Tough Questions on Marriage, Religious Liberty and More,” “The Hispanic Community: Messaging and Mobilizing,” “Values and Obamacare,” “Standing up to the Assaults on our Faith,” “Is it too Late to Reclaim America?” “The War on Football: Saving America’s Game” and “Challenging Tyranny.”
In the days before the summit, civil rights activists launched a campaign aimed at persuading scheduled speakers to skip the summit. FRC has a history of demonizing gays, portraying gays as sick, evil, incestuous, violent and perverted threats to the nation.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, Human Rights Campaign, NAACP, National Council of La Raza, GLAAD, People for the American Way Foundation and Faithful America all called on lawmakers to skip the summit.
“Elected officials shouldn’t lend the prestige of their office to hate groups that have a long history of telling incendiary lies about the LGBT community and spreading other forms of bigotry,” said a statement from the SPLC.
A letter signed by representatives from civil rights group that went to Ryan and others said, “Last year, RNC chairman Reince Priebus said that ‘people in this country, no matter straight or gay, deserve dignity and respect.’ The question before you today, therefore, is where the party of Lincoln stands in 2013 on vilifying the LGBT community. You can help answer that question by saying no to bigotry and declining the invitation to speak at the Values Voter Summit.”
The Family Research Council wants a school fined and its president fired because it placed on temporary paid leave an administrator who signed an anti-gay marriage petition.
Gallaudet University put chief diversity officer Angela McCaskill on leave after learning that she signed a petition to hold a referendum on Maryland’s marriage equality law on Nov. 6.
The legislation was passed and signed into law earlier this year, but opponents gathered enough signatures to take the issue to the general election ballot.
T. Alan Hurwitz, president of the school for the deaf and hearing impaired, issued a statement explaining the action this week: “It recently came to my attention that Dr. McCaskill has participated in a legislative initiative that some feel is inappropriate for an individual serving as Chief Diversity Officer; however, other individuals feel differently. I will use the extended time while she is on administrative leave to determine the appropriate next steps.”
Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay Family Research Council, defended McCaskill and also the campaign against marriage equality as he denounced the school’s action as anti-democratic.
“Until a few years ago, a decision punishing an employee for engaging in the democratic process would have been jaw-dropping,” Perkins said in a news release. “However, Gallaudet University’s discriminatory action reflects the troubling trend of intimidation and bullying tactics against those who uphold marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”
Perkins, whose group has been labeled a hate organization by the Southern Poverty Law Center, said signing the petition was McCaskill’s “basic citizen’s right to participation in our democratic process” and that the university president should be fired.
Two years ago, Perkins and the FRC endorsed U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint’s suggestion of barring LGBT people and sexually-active single women from working as teachers.
The Washington Blade first reported on McCaskill signing the petition.
As authorities revealed details about the Family Research Council shooting, the head of the influential conservative organization blamed the attack on “reckless rhetoric,” but then delivered his own politically-charged remark, saying critics gave the accused gunman “a license to shoot an unarmed man.”
Tony Perkins’ comments on Aug. 16 fanned already-inflamed statements from both sides, tapped into deep divisions over abortion and gay marriage, and drew more finger-pointing.
Meanwhile, the accused shooter, Floyd Lee Corkins II, was ordered held without bond on accusations he opened fire a day earlier inside the lobby of the council’s headquarters. Corkins, whose parents said he strongly supported gay rights, had a backpack full of Chick-fil-A sandwiches and a box of ammunition when he said words to the effect of “I don’t like your politics” and shot a security guard, authorities said.
The guard was shot in the left arm but nonetheless managed to help take down the gunman, preventing what the police said could have been a deadly attack.
It wasn’t immediately clear why Corkins, 28, had the chicken sandwiches.
The Family Research Council has steadfastly supported the president of Chick-Fil-A and his staunch opposition to same-sex marriage, a stance that has placed the fast-food chain at the center of a hot-button national cultural debate.
The organization strongly opposes gay marriage and abortion and says it advocates “faith, family and freedom in public policy and public opinion.” The conservative group maintains a powerful lobbying presence, testifying before Congress and reviewing legislation.
While blaming Corkins for the shooting, Perkins also faulted the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization that tracks and litigates against hate groups. The law center labeled the council a hate group in 2010 for what it called the organization’s anti-gay stance.
“Corkins was given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center that have been reckless in labeling organization hate groups because they disagree with them on public policy,” Perkins said.
Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the SPLC, called Perkins’ accusation “outrageous.” He said the council earned the designation for spreading false propaganda about the gay community, not for its opposition to same-sex marriage.
“The FRC routinely pushes out demonizing claims that gay people are child molesters and worse – claims that are provably false,” he said in a statement. “It should stop the demonization and affirm the dignity of all people.”
Corkins had recently been volunteering at a D.C. community center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. He lived with his parents in Herndon, Va., and appearing in court on Aug. 16 with what looked to be a black or swollen eye, told a federal magistrate that he had only $300.
Prosecutors requested a mental health evaluation, and Corkins’ public defender did not address the allegations in court.
Corkins faces charges of assault with intent to kill and bringing firearms across state. The judge ordered him held pending a hearing next week. Corkins was otherwise silent during the hearing and stared ahead impassively.
His parents have also not commented, but they told FBI agents that their son “has strong opinions with respect to those he believes do not treat homosexuals in a fair manner.”
The assault charge carries up to 30 years in prison and the weapons charge has a 10-year maximum sentence.
Corkins received a master’s degree in 2006 from George Mason University’s College of Education and Human Development in Fairfax. He earlier attended Grace Brethren Christian School near Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington.
The shooting was condemned by President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, as well as gay and lesbian advocacy groups and conservative organizations.
But there was no swift sign of reconciliation across the ideological spectrum.
“Perkins cannot be allowed to exploit the sympathy rightfully generated by this inexcusable crime to whitewash his group’s ongoing anti-gay activities. If the FRC wants to stop being labeled a hate group, it must stop doing and saying hateful things,” Wayne Besen, the founding executive director of Truth Wins Out, a non-profit group that fights anti-gay sentiment, said in a statement.
Authorities believe Corkins parked his car at a northern Virginia Metro station and used public transportation to get downtown. An open black box resembling a gun box was found on the car’s passenger seat, an affidavit said. Corkins used a Sig Sauer 9mm pistol that was legally bought and owned, said Richard Marianos, special agent in charge of the ATF’s Washington field office.
The guard, Leonardo “Leo” Johnson, 46, was resting comfortably at a hospital Aug. 16. He told WJLA-TV that Corkins claimed he had come to the council’s office to interview for an internship.
Johnson’s mother, Virginia Johnson, said she had not been to visit him but had spoken to him by phone.
“He said he feels very well,” she said in a brief interview. “I am proud of him, very proud of him.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, under attack from ultra-conservative groups that claim it shares the blame for an Aug. 15 shooting outside the Family Research Center in Washington, D.C., has responded to its critics.
The SPLC’s Mark Potok called the attack on the FRC, which resulted in the wounding of a security guard and ended with the arrest of a 28-year-old Virginia man, a tragedy.
“The Southern Poverty Law Center deplores all violence, and our thoughts are with the wounded victim, Leo Johnson, his family and others who lived through the attack,” Potok said.
He continued, “For more than 40 years, the SPLC has battled against political extremism and political violence. We have argued consistently that violence is no answer to problems in a democratic society, and we have strongly criticized all those who endorse such violence, whether on the political left or the political right.
“But this afternoon, FRC president Tony Perkins attacked the SPLC, saying it had encouraged and enabled the attack by labeling the FRC a ‘hate group.’ The attacker, Floyd Corkins, ‘was given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center,’ Perkins said. ‘I believe the Southern Poverty Law Center should be held accountable for their reckless use of terminology.'”
The SPLC called Perkins’ accusation outrageous.
Acknowledging that it has listed the FRC as a hate group since 2010, the Alabama-based group explained that the FRC has “knowingly spread false and denigrating propaganda about LGBT people — not, as some claim, because it opposes same-sex marriage. The FRC and its allies on the religious right are saying, in effect, that offering legitimate and fact-based criticism in a democratic society is tantamount to suggesting that the objects of criticism should be the targets of criminal violence.”
Potok said, “As the SPLC made clear at the time and in hundreds of subsequent statements and press interviews, we criticize the FRC for claiming, in Perkins’ words, that pedophilia is ‘a homosexual problem’ — an utter falsehood, as every relevant scientific authority has stated. An FRC official has said he wanted to ‘export homosexuals from the United States.’ The same official advocated the criminalizing of homosexuality.”
The organization said Perkins and his allies were trying to score points using the attack on the FRC office.
A coalition led by openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson is petitioning MSNBC to stop providing anti-gay Christian right leader Tony Perkins a platform.
Perkins is the head of the Family Research Council, which is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Perkins, according to the petitioners, has appeared on MSNBC more often this year than on any other cable news network to discuss gay rights.
The petition, circulated by Faithful America, contains 20,000 signatures and states, “The Family Research Council is a hate group, and journalists ought to treat it as such. MSNBC must stop inviting Family Research Council spokespeople on the air to represent the views of Christians and other people of faith.”
The petition also states, “MSNBC has built its business on progressive viewers, and they need to hear that we find it unacceptable to provide an unquestioning platform for the religious right’s hatred and fear-mongering.”
Signers include Robinson of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire and, from New York, the Revs. Jacqui Lewis of Middle Collegiate Church, Michael Ellick of Judson Memorial Church, Chloe Breyer of Interfaith Center of New York and Earl Kooperkamp of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.
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The leader of a gay-obsessed hate group has declared war on the company that produces Star Wars video games over news it might someday feature characters in same-sex relationships.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, is urging his followers to speak out against Bioware. He claims that the new video game “Star Wars: The Old Republic” has gay characters and relationships.
FRC was labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for spreading malicious lies about LGBT people that are designed to fuel hatred against then.
Perkins wrote that since Bioware’s announcement about featuring gay characters, “homosexuals have been celebrating the news, but parents sure aren’t. On the game’s website, there are more than 300 pages of comments – a lot of them expressing anger that their kids will be exposed to this Star Warped way of thinking.”
Perkins tells his followers to log on and speak up. “It’s time to show companies who the force is really with” he wrote.
However, a number of bloggers have pointed out that even though Perkins contends that “in a galaxy not so far far away, Star Wars gamers have already gone to the dark side,” the truth is that no gay characters have been added to the game. It’s just another case of Perkins trying to whip up an anti-gay frenzy and raise money for his group.
As for Perkins’ comments about “300 pages of comments” a quick search of Bioware’s forums conducted by Inquisitr showed nothing near that number of complaints from parents. In fact most comments on the forum were not from angry parents.
Lambda Legal has offered its take on the “Shit Girls Say” video phenom with a new release.
Lambda’s video, “Shit Homophobic People Say” contains actual footage of prominent homophobes, including Michele Bachmann, Ann Coulter, Tony Perkins and Rick Perry.
You can watch here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=SVEmHcz-SBs.
Fox News has been surprisingly silent about same-sex marriage but has ramped up the volume when it comes to promoting the myth that gays and lesbians are indoctrinating kids into the “homosexual lifestyle,” according to a report by Equality Matters.
The LGBT advocacy organization has chronicled a number of instances, especially in reporting about a California law that would require public schools to teach students about the contributions of LGBT Americans along with those of other marginalized groups, including the disabled and people of color. In its negative reporting of the law, Fox interviewed Tony Perkins, who heads the anti-gay Family Research Council. FRC has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Perkins warned Fox viewers that the lesson would cause children to be “indoctrinate(ed) into homosexuality.” In two follow-up segments, other Fox guests warned the law would create “gender confusion” and claimed that “kids do not bully each other based on gender.”
In past months, Fox pundits have repeatedly mocked anti-bullying efforts and attempts by the company J. Crew and the children’s TV show “Sesame Street” to promote tolerance among young people.
“Fox’s new obsession with kids being turned gay makes sense for a network that wants to maintain the favor of homophobes and bigots without appearing overtly homophobic or bigoted,” concludes Equality Matters. “By framing the debate in terms of concern about “indoctrination” and parental rights, Fox is attempting to disguise its deep anti-LGBT bias as something more palatable to the general public.”