The defiant county clerk from Kentucky is now seeing some serious consequences for her actions. On Thursday, a federal judge sentenced Kim Davis to jail for contempt of court at a hearing in Ashland, Kentucky. Judge David L. Bunning of the Federal District Court ruled that Davis will be released as soon as she agrees to comply with federal orders to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. The decision to incarcerate Davis comes after she repeatedly disobeyed court orders, including one from the Supreme Court, and continued to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. For a number of both moral and legal reasons, the decision to jail Davis was the right one.Since the Supreme Court made gay marriage a constitutional right in all 50 states in June, Davis has been defying the ruling by refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples in Rowan County, on the grounds that it would violate her religious beliefs. As a result, Davis has become a hero to social conservatives and a throbbing thorn in the side of anyone fighting for marriage equality. But underneath the various moral arguments against her defiance lies the simple fact that Davis is breaking the law, which forms the basis of Judge Bunning's ruling.
Judge Bunning had already ordered Davis to start issuing licenses last month, which she responded to by filing an appeal. On Monday, the Supreme Court turned down that appeal, but by Tuesday, she was back to refusing to issue licenses to same-sex couples in Rowan County, leading Judge Bunning to find her in contempt of court.Despite Davis's blatant disregard of the law and the immeasurable emotional stress she has caused same-sex couples hoping to marry in her county, the couple who filed the lawsuit had asked Judge Bunning to fine Davis, not to incarcerate her. But ultimately, Bunning's decision was the right one, for many reasons.
Firstly, Bunning reasoned, simply fining her might not deter her from continuing to violate court orders, and it would be easy to galvanize her newfound supporters to help pay the fines.Additionally, ACLU lawyers representing the couples suing Davis have argued that the whole time Davis was refusing to issue licenses, she was still getting paid. She "continues to collect compensation from the Commonwealth for duties she fails to perform." Furthermore, as an elected official, Davis cannot be fired. So she's essentially abusing the powers of government without obeying its authority.
Even staunch Republicans have spoken out against Davis' disobedience as a government official. Chris Christie told radio host Laura Ingraham on Wednesday:
What I've said before is for someone who works in the government has a bit of a different obligation than someone who's in the private sector or obviously working for educational institutions that's religiously based or others.But besides the many legal reasons supporting Judge Bunning's decision to jail Davis, there are even more significant moral ones. Even though Davis has now been punished and prohibited from doing any more damage in Rowan County, the ramifications of her actions are far-reaching. Every time a marriage equality opponent inspires fresh debate, they give other opponents more fuel to justify discrimination. With every Kim Davis or Memories Pizza or Sweet Cakes by Melissa comes renewed vigor from anti-equality conservatives to argue that one's religious freedom trumps another's civil rights. By simply refusing to do her job, Davis has contributed to undoing the landmark progress we've made as a nation this year. Jailing her was the least Judge Bunning could do.