Washington Post gets crucial Kim Davis compromises into new front-lines report

The latest from Rowan County, Kentucky? Sure, why not.

But before we look at some of the coverage of clerk Kim Davis and her first day back on the job, let's review the primary journalistic point that your GetReligionistas have been making, over and over, about this media circus.

Most of the national coverage, has portrayed this dispute as a clash between two national armies -- with the Religious Right on one side and gay-rights supporters on the other.

We have argued that this is too simplistic and that, to anticipate where the story is going, reporters need to focus on the actual laws in Kentucky and the ground-level efforts to realign them with the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 Obergefell decision to back gay marriage. At the very least, there appear to be four camps involved in this sad circus. 

(1) Cultural conservatives whose primary goal is to reject same-sex marriage.

(2) A coalition of state political leaders -- Democrats and Republicans -- seeking to comply with the Supreme Court ruling and recognize the rights of gay couples who seek marriage licenses. However, these officials and activists also want, in a way consistent with past legal efforts to offer "work around" accomodations for officials caught in conflict-of-interest binds, to recognize the religious-liberty rights of traditional Christians, Jews, Muslims and others who cannot endorse same-sex marriage.

(3) Activists of various kinds who want to defend religious liberty, but who believe Davis has hurt their cause, in the long run, by going to jail rather than either (a) resigning or (b) allowing others to distribute marriage licenses in her name until the state legislature acts to amend state laws in the wake of the Supreme Court decision. (See this earlier Bobby Ross Jr., post.)

(4) Activists on the secular and religious left whose primary goal is to force public officials whose duties touch same-same marriage to either resign or endorse, with their actions, the Obergefell decision.

Every now and then, The Washington Post team has included in its coverage details that point toward this complex four-level drama at the state level -- such as the fact that Davis herself supports compromises that would allow gay marriages to proceed (such as the legislature approving the removal of the clerk's name from the license or allowing couples to seek licenses through other government sources).

Pause and reflect: Davis herself is in camp 2, even if many of the people supporting her -- especially those featured in television-news reports, are in camp 1. Note the new PBS video at the top of this post.

Pay close attention to some of the details in the following material from a new Post story on the latest act in this drama:

Shannon and Carmen Wampler-Collins quietly filled out forms as supporters of Davis, the clerk who was jailed over her refusal to issue marriage licenses, jeered at them about the “sin” of homosexuality.
The protesters were drowned out when deputy clerk Brian Mason handed the couple their completed paperwork, with gay rights supporters shouting, “Thank you, Brian!”
The tense scene unfolded before scores of reporters, as Davis stayed quietly in a back office, the shades drawn closed. Until Monday, it had been unclear whether Davis would allow the marriage licenses to be issued when she returned to work after five nights in jail and several days off, despite an order from a federal judge that she not interfere with her deputies doing the task.

OK, so there is the basic two armies template at work.

But later on, there are interesting details about what is happening legally, at the local and state levels.

... Questions remained Monday about whether Davis is, in fact, following the condition. The marriage certificates issued do not bear her name or title, but rather say that they are being issued pursuant to a federal court order. In addition, “Rowan County” is struck out on the form and replaced with the name of the city, Morehead.
Samuel A. Marcosson, a law professor at the University of Louisville, said there is “no question” that the marriage licenses are valid. State law allows deputy clerks to carry out all the duties of chief clerks, he said, and as long as the state acknowledges the union then it is a valid marriage.
Attorney General Jack Conway, Gov. Steve Beshear and Rowan County Attorney Cecil B. Watkins -- all Democrats -- have said previous iterations of the marriage licenses were valid.

So what has happened today?

Davis is, apparently, acting as if changes in state law -- sought by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans -- are already in effect. She is compromising by allowing members of her staff to distribute, under the authority of the state instead of her authority, marriage licenses to same-sex couples. At this point, it appears that state officials will act as if key state laws have been changed, even if the governor has not allowed the legislature to meet and change them.

Later on, the story -- rather vaguely -- notes that Davis has in the past endorsed compromises that would have allowed the distribution of marriage licenses to gay couples in Rowan County. Read carefully:

Davis has asked that the governor and legislature devise a solution that would permit her to keep her job without violating her faith, such as removing the clerk’s name and title from marriage certificates.
North Carolina and Utah have passed protections for county officials who do not want to issue marriage licenses in their names to gay couples, and more states may follow suit.

It would have been accurate, and helpful, to state that Davis is "consistently" asked for changes in state laws that would recognize the rights of believers on both sides of the dispute. In other words, Davis is willing to see a camp 2 solution that honors both gay couples and public officials with beliefs on marriage similar to her own (take Pope Francis, for example).

However, outside, note the rhetoric being used by some protestors.

The courthouse was mobbed with demonstrators, particularly supporters of Davis, who milled inside and outside the front lobby. Elizabeth Johnston, 40, of Zanesville, Ohio, said she came to Rowan County to implore Davis not to issue any licenses today.
“We want Kim to be our Rosa Parks,” she said.
Asked if she would be disappointed if Davis allows her deputies to issue licenses, she responded that it would.
“That would be compromise,” she said.

In other words, this Davis "supporter" actually rejects the camp 2 compromise that Davis -- along with many Democrats and Republicans -- has been seeking during this whole drama.

See the difference? Behold the camp 1 activist. It would help, of course, if the Post team and others noted the difference.

Now, in the latest report from The Lexington Herald-Leader, it's possible to see some of the same facts emerging

MOREHEAD -- Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis said Monday that she will allow her deputies to issue marriage licenses, but the "unauthorized" documents now say they are issued "pursuant to federal court order" instead of including her name and title.

In other words, the licenses represent the state, not her own local authority. Has the state legislature approved that change yet? No.

Thus, the tensions. Who writes the actual texts of the laws used in Kentucky? The U.S. Supreme Court, the state legislature, U.S. District Judge David Bunning or a local clerk? That would be an interesting question for journalists to pursue.

This story also includes a glimpse of another camp in this conflict.

Hours later, two Lexington women, Shannon and Carmen Wampler-Collins, were handed one of the new marriage licenses by deputy clerk Brian Mason. Carmen Wampler-Collins is a Morehead native who wanted to get her license from her hometown courthouse.
The women said they are satisfied that their marriage license is legally valid, but they don't want Davis' arrangement to be "the final solution" in Rowan County.
"I would just hope that if her religious beliefs -- which I totally respect -- prevent her from doing the job for which she's paid, then she get out of the way so someone else can do the job," Carmen Wampler-Collins said.

Behold camp 4.

Another government official has been allowed to do the part of the clerk's job affected by her declared conflict of interest. Thus, a state-recognized marriage license was provided by a state official, with Davis allowing this compromise to take place. Davis got out of the way, only doing so in a way that did not endorse gay marriage.

But a state official distributed the license and Davis did not attempt to prevent that -- although she had hoped that the state legislature could make the wording of the licenses official. 

What is the goal now? Stay tuned. Clearly, the soldiers in camps 1 and 4 remain upset.

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