Column: The Kim Davis Lesson: Religious Bigotry is Still Bigotry

If you believe in inalienable rights, they apply to all people—even those you don’t like or agree with. So stop pretending wanting to deny other people their rights is god’s glory. There’s no honor in refusing fellow Americans their Constitutional right to personal freedoms.

Bigot isn’t spelled “martyr.”

Last week, scofflaw Kim Davis, Rowen County (KY) Clerk, was jailed for refusing a court order to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. She was in jail for five days. When she was released, opportunistic Republican politicians backed by a crowd waving crosses and a Confederate flag greeted her. There was even one sign reading: “Beginning of a new Holocaust?”

Now I realize that was a rhetorical question, but I’ll answer it anyway: “No!” And now that you mention it, the Holocaust was fueled by religiously based prejudice. It was the sincerely held biblical belief that Jews were subhuman and should be wiped off the face of the planet. So again, because the question was asked, a county official being ordered to do her job regardless of her own cherry-picked revulsion is not anything like Nazis committing genocide.

The immunity of sincerely held beliefs stops when it creates victims of said beliefs. Full stop.

Slavery was a sincerely held religious belief in this country—for ISIS it still is. I’m going to be heretical and say I don’t care what the Koran or the Bible have to say on the matter of owning human beings. I don’t care which ancient tome sanctions it—it’s an atrocity, a war crime and an unfading blight on humanity.

In the 1800s, there was a sincerely held belief to deny Catholics civil liberties. Prior to the Civil War, nativists dubbing themselves the Know Nothings actively tried to keep “papists” from public office and citizenship. They used terrorist tactics and violence to get their way. I’m going out on a limb here and saying this isn’t covered under religious freedom; it’s covered under the criminal code. (To their credit the Know Nothings were intolerant terrorists yet fervently anti-slavery.)

There was a sincerely held religious belief against giving women the right to vote, for segregation, to relocate and slaughter Native Americans, to shoot Dr. George Tiller in the head in church and to blow up the Twin Towers. Yes, the religious test codified by the Hobby Lobby decision that your employer just has to truly care about making birth control prohibitively expensive, has also been used for all sorts of horrible things.

Biblical and legal are not the same thing. We don’t allow states to mutilate prisoners as punishment even though the bible is totally cool with it. Even as charlatans call us a Christian nation—no one is fighting to bring back cutting off women’s hands for touching a man’s junk (Deuteronomy 25:11-12). So this idea that anything ghastly is made holy by incantation isn’t true in a legal, ethical or simple human-decency sense.

Anti-Semitism isn’t given a pass for being religiously supported. We’d never be OK with someone not serving Muslims or Unitarians or atheists because of their biblical convictions. We’d certainly not lionize a public official denying them their right to marry. If Kim Davis, in her capacity as an elected official, refused to let an interracial couple marry (a practice in Kentucky until the Loving decision in 1967) because she believed god didn’t approve of mixing the races—no one would bat an eye at throwing her hateful butt in jail.

The fact of the matter is, it is on-trend to discriminate against gays. They’re just the latest offering as the villainous “other” who allegedly wants to harm Christians for their faith. There was even a sign equating gays with AIDS at the Kim Davis release rally (even though statically in this country AIDS is now a poor person’s disease). What kind of ghoulish monster would proclaim theirs is a loving god with that in their sightline?! (That was another rhetorical question. We all know the answer.)

Gays fighting for their place at the table in American civic life have made those catering to bigots (yes, Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee, I mean you) prosperous. Gays have been a shiny distraction from the boring tenets of Christianity like loving your neighbor, taking care of those less fortunate and general hospitality. Instead people get to think of themselves as warriors instead of just small-minded bullies picking on an still-unprotected minority.

If it weren’t for gays, there would be some other imagined existential threat to bond the gullible and superstitious together.

But regardless of anything Kim Davis thinks or does, gay marriage is still the law of the land. Gays are still on target to have the same rights as any other American.

So, move on…ward Christian soldiers.


Photo by Mike Licht