Kim Davis is No Rosa Parks

By Anna Gibson

In recent news, county clerk Kim Davis has been under fire for refusing to carry out her duty in providing a marriage license to a same-sex couple. This has caused an uproar on both sides with many calling her a “martyr” for her actions and others calling her a bigot. While I won’t disparage her character like some who oppose her actions, it can’t be denied that standing up for your religion has nothing to do with following the law. Church and state are separated for a reason.

Kim was recently sent to jail on contempt of court after the judge made it perfectly clear that what Kim did was unlawful. She was asked, “Would you ever consider marrying same sex couples?” Her response, as expected, was a resounding “No.”

In one of the most disturbing developments in public opinion, one that seems to be the underlying pattern of many Christian apologists and Fundamentalist parties, these religious conservatives have a tendency to put God’s law above all else, even if that means going against the constitutional rights of others. Kim Davis herself claimed that she couldn’t marry the two men on the basis of “God’s authority,” but if this were the case, who are we to cherry pick what we choose to do and not do in the Bible?

Faith has also been used to empower people and act as a catalyst to positive action in their communities for centuries. This is true whether we talk about the Civil Rights Movement or the recent news of Muslims helping to donate $100,000 to fix water shut offs in Detroit. However, it also can’t be denied that religion has been used as an excuse for all sorts of reprehensible behavior whether it’s twisted to kill children, commit genocide against entire groups of people, or prove that slavery is totally okay. While people have the right to practice their religion as they please, it can’t be used to infringe on another’s constitutional rights. Otherwise we’ll come one step closer to religious law, which if we look at modern-day extremist groups in the United States, doesn’t seem to work out too well.

To make matters worse, a recent article in the Conservative Review compared Kim Davis to a “modern-day Rosa Parks.” According to Daniel Horowitz, “we are on the precipice of losing that asylum [in religious values] to a pagan inquisition our Founders could never have recognized... Kim Davis, the Clerk of Rowan County Kentucky is now taking a stand and is refusing to be sent to the back of the bus as a second class citizen in a country founded upon Judeo-Christian values.”

First of all, this country wasn’t founded with just Christians in mind. To say that our founding fathers wouldn’t have stood for our First Amendment Rights – freedom of religion among them – is completely illogical. They EXPLICITLY wrote that into the Constitution. Freedom of religion includes every religion, not just the one you choose to practice. To further protect citizens, the Establishment Clause was put in place in 1798 to ensure the separation of church and state.

Furthermore, Kim Davis isn’t sitting in the “back of the bus” but at the front. Christians are some of the most privileged religious groups in the United States. Churches are ubiquitous; you’ll have no problem finding one. Christians can walk around with a cross around their neck and not be harassed. There are dozens of networks that like TBN, God TV, CBN and countless others that showcase Christianity. Of course, it isn’t my intention to disparage Christians or even make them feel bad about a tradition they choose. However, knowing your privilege in any given situation is the key to healing our relationships with one another.

With that in mind, I’m forced to ask another question: If Christians are sitting at the “front of the bus as ‘first class citizens,’” who’s sitting in the back?

Our “second-class” citizens are not largely Christian (though I know there are exceptions). They are the Muslim women who are spat on for wearing a hijab. Maybe they’re Muslim women who’re fired for their religious beliefs. Perhaps it’s a Sikh child being called a ‘terrorist’ by other kids on a bus on the way to school. Maybe it’s a elderly Sikh man being told to “take that rag off” [referring to his turban] by a county judge.

The idea that the U.S. only upholds the rights of people who are Christian is ridiculous and perpetuates the erasure and oppression of entire groups of people simply on the basis of what they choose to practice.

That being said, where do Black and brown people stand in all this? Faith has been central to Black people, even within the LGBTQIA communities. Statistics show that over 80 percent of Black people are Christian. However, the social climate of the past 20 years has shown an increase in support for LGBTQIA people in the Black community by 39 percent. These numbers show substantial progress. However, we still have to account for the remaining 60 percent of people who may back Kim Davis’s decision based on homophobia.

Even though Black Protestants make up a substantial number of Christians in the United States, we are not monoliths. Historically many of our writers, artists, civil rights activists, and other national figures have been a part of the LGBTQIA community. Names such as Bayard Rustin, James Baldwin, and Audre Lorde have all brought awareness to our issues and fought against the oppression of our people. To support Kim Davis, when she has done nothing for our community, dishonors the memories of those who put their lives on the line in the fight for our rights.

Many Black Christians would argue that it’s possible to “hate the sin and not the sinner.” However, using your religion to help undermine a constitutional right that LGBTQIA people have been fighting to attain for decades can only cause division in our community. If we’re going to work together to undermine the system that’s undermined us, it’s integral that we stick together. Supporting Kim Davis isn’t an act of love. Instead, it reveals an ingrained fear that underlies many of the arguments against same-sex marriage, that Christianity is being “criminalized.”

LGBTQIA people have been around for as long as humans have walked the earth. As this study from Yale shows, even animals have been found to pair with each other in same-sex relationships. No one is “criminalizing Christianity” because they want to live their lives without hiding in a closet somewhere no one will see them (no pun intended). After fighting so hard, we just want to enjoy the same benefits that straight people do.

In short, Kim Davis is not a “religious martyr.” She’s undermined the constitution and still refuses to step down from her position as a county clerk. She’s a bigot who’s using taxpayer dollars, many from those who are LGBTQIA, to advance her own religious beliefs. Christianity isn’t being “criminalized”; it’s one of the most prominent religions in this country. Making room for other people who think and behave differently from you will only promote unity. If Kim wants to practice her religion, she has every right to do so, just not at the expense of the freedoms of others.
Furthermore, if black people decide to support her, it would only create division in our communities and the delay progress we’ve made in overcoming the oppression that affects us all. Our stories are all connected, no matter what we identify as. We need to start looking past our superficial divisions and towards commonalities so we can heal and support one another.

Photo: Ty Wright

Anna Gibson is a student at Wayne State University who seeks to help the marginalized tell their stories. She’s pretty awesome. As such, you should check her out @TheRealSankofa on Twitter or on Facebook under the name Anna Gibson.

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