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Grace Eberly

Rethinking Religion: Kim Davis is a symptom of larger issue of Biblical cherry-picking

Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis has come under media scrutiny, and legal trouble, for her stance on issuing marriage licenses in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding gay marriage.

On June 26th of this year the United States Supreme Court ruled that, under the protection of the 14th Amendment, same-sex couples are guaranteed the right to lawful marriage. One woman in Kentucky disagreed.

And so, following the Court’s decision, Kim Davis — the Rowan County clerk — stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether.

It is unclear exactly how many couples were turned away by Davis but at least one instance was recorded on camera and posted online, prompting a firestorm of controversy. In the video, one man asks, “Under whose authority are you not issuing licenses?” Davis retorts, “Under God’s authority.” Ironically, this “earthly” authority that Davis refuses to recognize is the same one that issues her paychecks.

Several days later, Davis was found in contempt of court and detained. For days she rejected all proposals that would have resulted in her release. In a statement moderated by her lawyers, Davis reaffirmed, “To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. It is not a light issue for me. It is a heaven or hell decision.”

I do not question that Kim Davis is at least sincere in her belief. I find it likely that she does in fact genuinely believe that these actions are worthy of a one-way ticket to hell. I don’t think she is a liar. But I do think she is a hypocrite.

The Bible says it is an abomination for “man to lie with a man as with a woman,” (Leviticus 18:22, NRSV). Indeed, the Bible says “they shall be put to death,” (Leviticus 20:13, NRSV). But the Bible says a lot of things.

Take, for example, Mark 10:11-12: “He [Jesus] said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery’” (NRSV). And the punishment for adultery is the same as for homosexuality: “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death” (Leviticus 21:10, NRSV.)

Kim Davis has not put anyone to death. But, at the very least, wouldn’t a pious Christian like Davis take issue with granting marriage licenses to these adulterous couples? In a document provided by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, it is made clear that all marriage license applicants are required to declare their current marital status (single, divorced, annulled or widowed) and number of previous marriages. It is, therefore, a virtual certainty that Kim Davis knowingly issued marriage licenses to divorced persons. Why no crisis of conscience here? Maybe it has something to do with her personal history: Kim Davis herself has been married four times.

Not surprisingly, Davis has already become a martyr for the conservative agenda. During a rally hosted in her honor, Davis walked on stage to “Eye of the Tiger” (Survivor is reportedly not very happy about this.) Republican presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz have vocally condemned Obama’s “criminalization of Christianity.” Davis has been compared to Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mathew Starver, head legal counsel for the defendant, has even likened his client’s plight to that of the Jews in Nazi Germany. I find most of these claims to be without merit, but Davis’s willingness to go to jail for her religious beliefs should at least lead us to think seriously about conviction and civil disobedience: if you were a county clerk in Kentucky, would you have been willing to go to jail for issuing a marriage license to a same-sex couple before the Supreme Court’s ruling?

The situation in Kentucky will probably resolve quite seamlessly (the deputy clerks of Rowan County have already reluctantly agreed to begin providing marriage licenses to same-sex couples). Davis was released from custody on Tuesday and in a few weeks everyone except for Mike Huckabee will have moved on. But I fear Kim Davis is only the symptom of a larger problem, one that I don’t see going away any time soon.

Biblical cherry-picking is lazy and irresponsible. Kim Davis certainly has the right to selectively choose which verses of scripture she will uphold in her personal life and which she will discard. But she shouldn’t expect to be taken seriously. Nor does she have the right, as a government official, to impose her religious beliefs on the public she was elected to serve.

Kim Davis’s Bible misses the point. Kim Davis’s Bible is shallow and fragmentary. Kim Davis’s Bible has historically been used as a weapon for oppression and bigotry. I don’t think Jesus wouldn’t have liked Kim Davis’s Bible.

Grace Eberly is a senior studying world religions and biology. What religious-related topics do you want her to talk about this semester? Email her at 

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