Yo, journalists: Kentucky has solved its gay-marriage dilemma and Kim Davis is happy

You remember Kim Davis, right?

Yes, we're still talking about the Rowan County clerk who insisted that her Apostolic Christian beliefs would not allow her to sign -- as required by Kentucky law -- marriage licenses for same-sex couples. If you are drawing a blank, click here and surf around.

At the height of early Kim Davis mania -- when her brief time behind bars was dominating headlines and even evening news shows -- I had an interesting email dialogue with a mainstream news reporter. I was arguing, here at GetReligion, that reporters were ignoring two crucial facts in this story.

Fact 1: From the beginning, Davis and her legal team were open to a compromise that would allow other local and state officials to sign marriage licenses. This would mean removing the slot on the license form requiring the signature of the county clerk.

Fact 2. From the beginning, there were Democrats, as well as Republicans, in the state legislature who backed this compromise -- which would recognize the religious liberty rights of clerks, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

The problem was my use of the positive word "compromise." I was working under what some considered the false impression that a political course of action represented "compromise" if it (a) granted each side their primary goal (same-sex marriage on one side, freedom of religious conscience on the other) and (b) was backed by a broad, centrist coalition of Democrats and Republicans.

My reporter friend's logic was simple: Elite journalists were not going to consider this a "compromise" if Davis was happy with it. Now, what's the implication of that statement?

This brings me to a recent Reuters piece that may, perhaps, wrap up the long, tortured story of Davis and her efforts in support of the free exercise of religious convictions (see the First Amendment). This development has not received much national attention, but I think it's crucial. The headline: "Kentucky clerk opposed to gay marriage says state law negates appeal."

(Reuters) The Kentucky clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples asked a federal appeals court to dismiss her appeal because the state’s new law to remove clerks’ names from licenses made her action unnecessary.
Attorneys for Rowan County clerk Kim Davis filed a motion ... with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asking for the dismissal since the state’s new law will go into effect two weeks before the case was due for oral arguments.
Last summer, Davis refused to issue licenses to gay couples after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage, drawing international attention and triggering demonstrations and legal actions.

And the major development that allowed this:

The new law, signed by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in April, “expressly modifies the Kentucky marriage licensing scheme to remove entirely a county clerk’s name, personal identifiers, and authorization from any license, thereby providing through a change in the law the very religious accommodation Davis sought from the beginning of this litigation,” according to the ... filing. ...
“I am pleased that I can continue to serve my community as the Rowan County Clerk without having to sacrifice my religious convictions and conscience,” Davis said in a statement.

So we are halfway there, in terms of closing the gaps in this major story.

This Reuters report, as carried by Religion News Service, notes that this action -- the removal of the county-clerk signature slot -- was the goal of Davis and her legal team all along. That's good.

But what is still missing? If this is the case, then that means that the infamous Rowan County clerk's primary goal was not -- wait for it -- stopping gay marriages from taking place in Kentucky.

Yes, Davis was opposed to gay marriage. However, from Day 1, her legal team backed a plan that would have immediately have made it possible for gay couples to receive signed marriage licenses in every county in the state. My point, once again: How is that not a victory for same-sex couples in Kentucky?

But clearly I was not seeing the bigger picture.

Do you recall the language used by The Lexington Herald-Leader when the new Republican governor immediately put this plan into action? The lede was:

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin filed five executive orders ... to start reshaping state government along conservative ideological lines, including one that removes county clerks’ names from marriage licenses, granting the request of Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who opposes same-sex marriage.

In other words, an action that legalized same-sex marriage across Kentucky represented a course along "conservative ideological lines" -- because it also protected religious liberty. The Herald-Leader report, as I noted at the time, included zero quotes from Democrats who supported this compromise (quotes that were available elsewhere).

Here is my question: If we live in an age in which many complain that political compromise -- often evidence of genuine tolerance -- is all but impossible, does it make matters better or worse if journalists ignore, or mangle, stories about efforts among Democrats and Republicans seeking compromise? 

Why was it so hard for journalists to cover the factual details of the Davis case, including the coalition of Democrats and Republicans who supported the same compromise that she did?

I've been asking this question for months. Maybe this is the last time I will get to ask it -- in terms of the Davis case. Maybe.

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