Tuesday, September 01, 2015

God, Kim Davis, defiance, law, martyrdom, and the mess in Rowan County, Kentucky

County Clerk Kim Davis. Her next job
may be clerking at Walmart.
I don’t know whether what follows is prompted by my own anti-authoritarian streak, or by the fact that I'm descended from a long line of people who were burned at the stake or otherwise tormented for their religion. Whatever it is, I have to confess to a grudging respect for Kim Davis.

Ms. Davis, in case you’ve somehow missed it, is the county clerk in rural Rowan County, Kentucky. She has defied the Supreme Court of the United States by refusing to grant marriage licenses to gay couples. She said she does so under the authority of God.

For those of us who believe in the rights of gays, or the rule of law, or both, that defiance ultimately can’t stand. But it also poses a dilemma.

America’s Davis dilemma

Arrest Ms. Davis for contempt of court and, guaranteed, she becomes a martyr. She’ll be portrayed by the religious right as a brave, lonely women, arrested by an anti-religious totalitarian gubmint, for practicing her religion and obeying what she believes is a message from God. Or, from their point of view, what is actually a message from God.

But let her get away with it, and not only does respect for the law get diminished, but her disrespect is almost guaranteed to become contagious. Before long, other county clerks who have personal negative feelings about gay marriage will rediscover their own messages from God and start heaving gay couples out of the courthouse.

Moreover, once it’s accepted that only your conscience and messages you say you hear from God need to be your guide, people will find reasons to conscientiously discriminate against others because of race, ethnic background or — ironically — religion. 

“God told me he needed killin' ”

While we’re at it, why not make religion a valid defense for murder? “God told me to shoot him. He needed killin’ because they was drinkin’ liquor on Sunday. That's my religious belief and I got Freedom of Religion.”

Right. And that's almost exactly the same excuse ISIS uses when they cut off peoples' heads.

So what to do? I suggest a completely peaceful solution.

Executive action to the rescue

Let the chief executive, either of Kentucky, or if he lacks the spine, then the chief executive of the United States take action. 

The chief executive should not attempt to remove or punish Kim Davis. That would be a disaster. Instead, he should, by executive authority, appoint a deputy to go to Rowan County charged with the power to grant marriage licenses by executive fiat. 

Ms. Rowan can continue, as county clerk, doing the other things county clerks do. She can record deeds. Or births. Or deaths. Or affix tax stamps. Or hide in her office and pick her nose. Whatever. But the governor’s or the president’s deputy will issue the marriage licenses, as a necessary service to the citizens of Rowan County who are not getting that service from their clerk.

Now this doesn’t come cheaply. The deputy will have to be stationed pretty much full time in Rowan County. Costs will include a salary. Plus benefits. Maybe a living allowance. The deputy will also probably need security guards for protection against the Bible Zealots. I’ll take a wild stab at a number. It’ll all cost, even in rural Kentucky, oh, $175,000 a year.

Well, hold on. Actually $175,000 may not do it. Some state or government body’s HR department is going to have to find, recruit and hire the Deputy Executive Marriage License Issuer. Somebody will have to do a background check on him or her. Somebody will have to put them on the government payroll. All this takes costly time and manpower. So add another $50,000 to the $175,000. That’s up to $225,000 total.

Who should pay the bill?

Simple. The taxpayers of Rowan County should pay. It’s their county clerk whose work needs supplementing. The taxpayers elected her. They haven’t removed her.  She's their liability. Send them the bill, the same way Donald Trump wants to send a bill to Mexico for the costs of a wall between the two nations. 

What if Rowan County refuses to pay? 

You know, maybe folks in Rowan County's government will hear God coming out of their IPod ear buds,  ordering them not to write any checks. There’s a simple solution to that, too.

There can’t be a county in this nation that isn’t receiving some kind of largesse from both their state and the federal government. Maybe it’s highway maintenance money. Maybe it’s the moolah to mend the roof on the local high school. Maybe it’s a grant to the local police force or to the sheriff’s office. Whatever it is, just flip the switch that turns off the money pump. Tell the county, “We’re deducting this pork from from the pork that you were expecting and using it to pay your unpaid bills for marriage license services."

Hellish roads, WalMart and Bible talk

Let me tell you what would happen. The taxpayers of Rowan County would discover that the road to hell is paved with potholes, and broken concrete, and falling-down schools, and law enforcement departments that don’t have the latest war toys.  Even the dog catcher might not get paid. Or all those costs would get paid, but the county would have to institute a tax increase to meet expenses. And then some rival politician will raise his head and blame the civic suffering and higher taxes on Kim Davis. 

And come the next election, betcha she’ll be clerking not over at the courthouse, but at WalMart.

Meanwhile, other county clerks, profiting by her example, will hear a different message from God. Y’see, the Bible that all the gay haters love to thump may say bad things about gays on some page or other, but the same Bible sure doesn't hate gubmint. Or taxes. You can find proof of that in several places in the New Testament, starting with Mark 12:17.

September 5th update:

I might have known. A Kentucky judge took the easy way out, and tossed Kim Davis' butt in the slammer. Now the martyrdom contingent is out, preparing her for fundamentalist sainthood. Had the judge been a reader of The New York Crank and seen this article, he might have taken a different course. He could have appointed the equivalent of a guardian to issue marriage licenses in the county clerk's office in the absence of the clerk's ability to do so, and, as I also suggested, sent a bill for all related costs to the county. Meanwhile, Kim could pose for the press, looking sullen.

A contempt prisoner can only be held until it becomes self evident — as perhaps it is already — that the contemptuous miscreant will not mend her ways no matter how long she sits there. At that point the judge has to set her free. And, once free, she can go right back to her office and continue refusing to issue marriage licenses. Somebody mail the judge a printout of this article, or at least e-mail him a link. I'd do it myself, but this whole affair has made me too cranky.


tony in san diego said...

check your math

The New York Crank said...

Good catch, Tony. The error has been fixed. That's what comes from writing blog posts when it's past my bedtime.

Yours crankily,
The New York Crank

Yastreblyansky said...

Too sane to succeed. It was a good idea though.