Laurie Essig Ph.D.

Social Studies

Kim Davis and Unintended Consequences

The path of legal decisions is never straight

Posted Sep 09, 2015

Carter County Jail
Source: Carter County Jail

The Supreme Court is a lovely fantasy. We want rights. We go to the Court to beg for those rights. A decision is made. All is settled.

In some ways this fantasy mirrors that of a small child. "Mom, she hit me." "Don't hit your sister. Now kiss and make up." "Okay, fine," says the surly sibling until out of mom's sight all hell breaks loose and the punch is now a pinch, more painful, but also not expressly prohibited by "do not hit."

It is not clear why we continue to engage in this fantasy. After all, Brown v. Board of Education said that schools must be desegregated and yet American schools are more segregated today than they were in 1954. Roe v. Wade said that women have the right to terminate pregnancies and yet an abortion is nearly as difficult to secure now as it was in 1973.

And now this past summer the Supreme Court said same-sex couples have the right to marry and so the real battle begins. Kim Davis, a clerk in Kentucky not only blocked such marriages in contempt of court, but is now a real life American folk hero (as well as real life generator of some hilarious internet memes).

When Kim was released from her five days in prison for ignoring court orders, she spoke to a crowd of enthusiastic supporters. GOP candidate Mike Huckabee emceed an event that began with "Eye of the Tiger" and ended with her urging her supporters on to fight for God's will on earth. 

In other unexpected consequences, a Tennessee judge has refused to let a heterosexual couple divorce citing the Supreme Court decision allowing gay marriage. According to the judge, Jeffrey Ahterton, 

The conclusion reached by this Court is that Tennesseans have been deemed by the U.S. Supreme Court to be incompetent to define and address such keystone/central institutions such as marriage, and, thereby, at minimum, contested divorces

In some ways, these unintended consequences can tell us more about what the future holds than the Supreme Court decisions themselves. It should be clear by now that the Religious Freedom laws circulating in some states will be able to use the Kim Davis case in order to protect Christians from the "gay agenda."  And the 20 states that have already passed such laws will also be able to show the "dangerous" consequences for Christians if such laws were repealed.

It should also be clear that the heroes of this movement will be those, like Davis, willing to be jailed to show their opposition to marriage rights for gays and lesbians. Davis is already being called a "prisoner of conscience" and her lawyer described her as like a Jew in Nazi Germany. 

The only thing that we can really predict is that the June Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges did not settle what citizenship rights shall be afforded gays and lesbians, but instead opened what will be an ongoing battle with no end in sight.

More Posts