If Kim Davis had been put in jail for issuing marriage licenses to gay couples rather than for refusing to issue them, quite a few people would be cheering her brave act of civil disobedience. Instead, the Kentucky clerk stands as an emblem of the last gasps of a fast-fading culture war. That war is ending not with a bang but with a series of surreal whimpers in the form of people like Davis.
Everything about Davis—from her four (!) marriages to her fringe theology—makes the drama that surrounding her more bizarre. Equally weird was the legal hearing where she operatically declined to back down from her homophobic stance. From the New York Times:
“Marriage is between one man and one woman,” Ms. Davis said during a frequently tearful turn on the witness stand on Thursday. When Mr. Gannam, one of her lawyers, asked whether she approved of same-sex marriage, she replied, “It’s not of God.”
You couldn't make it up. Predictably, Republican presidential candidates have rallied around Davis, casting her as the latest martyr in the war on religious liberty. Davis is a Democrat, but you can expect to see her at quite a few conservative gatherings when she gets out of jail.
Whatever happens to Davis in the end, a few things are clear. The first is that, despite the attempts by some fringe crazies to elevate her to the status of Rosa Parks, she will ultimately be a footnote in history. History, as they say, is written by the winners, and the Kim Davises of the world have lost.
Think about it for a second: Someone has been put behind bars in the South for homophobia. Legalities aside, I find it pretty extreme that Davis has been locked up, but that's mostly a philosophical point. What person in, say, 1995, could have envisioned that such a thing would come to pass in the United States in just 20 years--that the force of a state like Kentucky would be deployed against a homophobic bigot instead of in her favor? It is something to behold.
The second thing that is clear is that we will be seeing more where all of this came from. Anti-gay forces in America have found that old-fashioned prejudice is not working for them as much as it used to. "Religious liberty" is the final front they are fighting on. Never mind that the whole point of the First Amendment is that one person's religious beliefs can't be foisted on someone else—and that there are already lots of carve-outs that ban people from, say, refusing people service on the grounds of race. Homophobes need something to do with their days.
The third thing that is clear is that these efforts will overwhelmingly be unsuccessful. For evidence of that, look to Indiana, where attempts to pass a clearly anti-gay religious freedom law turned into the gravest crisis of Gov. Mike Pence's political life. Pence was forced to back down. He won't be the last one.
The fourth thing that is clear is that we desperately need a federal anti-discrimination law. We should amend the Civil Rights Act so that the full force of its protections are extended to LGBT people. There should be no legal ambiguities whatsoever for lunatics like Kim Davis to latch onto.
Ultimately, though, our response to Kim Davis should be one of rejoicing. People like her are becoming an irrelevance in our national life. Fifty years from now, our children and grandchildren will hear stories about her ilk and they will recoil. They will shake their heads and wonder how such things could have been. Compared to the wonders of that moment, Kim Davis is nothing.