Contempt of clerk

When cameras captured Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis denying a marriage license to a gay couple “under God’s authority” — in defiance of the Supreme Court of the United States of America — fans of horror writer Stephen King had a nagging sense of déjà vu. We’d seen that movie before — a quarter century ago. In the screen adaptation of “Misery,” Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) rescues novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) from a winter wreck, makes him a bedridden prisoner and forces him to burn his manuscript (because profanity “has no nobility”). After an escape attempt, she binds and hobbles him (sledgehammers his ankles). Annie is implicated in Paul’s disappearance when the sheriff discovers she is his “number one fan” as he seizes on an old newspaper clipping featuring her creepy quote, after her trial. It matches a line from one of the novelist’s books: “There is a justice higher than that of man. I will be judged by Him.”

Neither love nor fear of her Higher Judge prevents her from blowing a hole through the sheriff’s back with a shotgun as he discovers her hostage.

For hobbling the issuance of marriage licenses, Kim Davis ignited a firestorm of controversy and a media feeding frenzy. It also induced friends to resurrect a declaration I hadn’t heard for quite a while: “I’m not from Kentucky; I’m from Louisville.” Just as we were channeling Davis to “Stop embarrassing us” and pondering whether to pool our paltry resources to hire a skywriter to write likewise, the plot twisted enough to make Stephen King’s screenwriters blush. Republican candidates were clamoring to become Davis’ number one fan. I’ll defer to West Kentucky-based history professor and author Berry Craig for the gory recap: “[Gubernatorial candidate Matt] Bevin and [attorney general candidate Whitney] Westerfield have hitched their wagons to Davis’ star, doubtless figuring they can make a wagon load of political hay off her in the Bible Belt Bluegrass State. Second, by championing a Democrat — make that ‘Democrat’ — they can proclaim themselves bipartisan. (Cruz and Huckabee see Davis as a winner for their national campaigns, too.) … Since Davis has hit the hoosegow, Bevin and Westerfield have shifted their pander machines to warp speed.”

The great mystery now playing out in this commonwealth is in the Rowan County seat of Morehead, where the clerk’s office is issuing licenses devoid of Davis’ name. It’s playing out in the Carter County seat of Grayson, where Davis last week was released from jail to have multiple orgasms between Huckabee and her attorney. And it’s playing out in Grayson County, for which Grayson, Kentucky, is often mistaken. (My favorite, WDRB-TV on Sept. 6: “Davis is being held at the Carter County Detention Center in Grayson County.”)

The mystery playing out statewide is how this will play out at the polls in less than two months. Last Friday on KET’s “Comment on Kentucky,” the C-J’s Joe Gerth said, “The concern among the Democrats is that this is really gonna spark a fire under social conservatives … You’ve got preachers in Eastern Kentucky taking to the pulpit to say, ‘Our (religious) freedom is under attack.’” 

Panelist Ronnie Ellis of the CNHI newspaper chain added, “This is the perfect storm for Bevin” that has energized the tea party and social conservatives amid an otherwise unexciting campaign.

Nevertheless, the smart money is betting on a progressive Kentucky. Craig opined, “[M]any Bluegrass State Christians don’t agree with Davis when she insists gay people are ‘not of God’ — and, by implication, hell-bound.” (Indeed, the god Davis worships looks more like a Nazi than any deity I recognize.)

For editorial support, Craig cited the C-J’s veteran political guru Al Cross, who wrote, “Most Kentuckians, I believe, cherish the rule of law, and that’s why Bevin and Westerfield are not only wrong, but politically wrong … I think voters increasingly realize that gay marriage really doesn‘t affect them — and that Davis’ defiance isn‘t a matter of religious freedom.” Former C-J editorialist Keith Runyon, now a commentator for WFPL-FM 89.3, believes that the compliance of “tens of thousands” Jefferson Countians with court-ordered school desegregation four decades ago, bodes well for the marriage equality mandate. “Just like most government servants across the nation who issue marriage licenses,” he said, “they understood that the law is not about our personal beliefs or prejudices.”

Election day may be a barometer of how far we’ve come. May we come far — and often.