Kim Davis is just the beginning

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Drawing the Line Between Beliefs

Those of us who support gay rights watched with disgust this week as Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, flanked by conservative presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, celebrated her release from jail. She'd been locked up for five nights after refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The judge in her case could have simply required her to step aside and let one of her colleagues issue the licenses. But he opted for melodrama, and created a movement martyr. Kim Davis is now a household name and a conservative darling. Upon her release, with a song from the Rocky III soundtrack blaring, Davis raised her arms triumphantly before a crowd of supporters. "I just want to give God the glory," she said through tears. "His people have rallied, and you are a strong people!"

Her theatrics led me to a sobering realization: Davis is right. The opponents of equality are strong. In the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, the fight for gay rights is now transitioning from a national slog to a long, local battle that will, in all likelihood, bear some resemblance to the modern fight for abortion rights. Even though abortion has been a constitutionally guaranteed right since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, women's access has been severely eroded ever since by waiting periods, procedural restrictions, conscience clauses, and forced clinic closures. One Texas provider must assure its clients, "It is not illegal to seek abortion services." Like the post-Roe right to abortion, the right of same-sex couples to marry is guaranteed by the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, like those seeking abortion care, the freedom of same-sex couples to exercise their right to marry is already being undercut by people all around the country — they just haven't garnered as much attention as Kim Davis.

This is about much more than conservative cake-decorators' staunch refusal to serve gay clientele. This opposition is not giving up anytime soon.While we're busy rolling our eyes and making parody Twitter accounts about Kim Davis, other officials in Kentucky and beyond are also refusing to issue licenses. In Oregon, Marion County circuit judge Vance Day has refused to perform same-sex marriages. Day stopped conducting ceremonies for all couples once marriage equality became the law of the land, opting to refer everyone to county judges. In Alabama, several probate judges are declining to issue all marriage licenses. North Carolina and Utah allow officials with "sincerely held religious objections" to opt out of facilitating same-sex marriages. In North Carolina, more than 30 magistrates have availed themselves of this option. Meanwhile, in Hood County, Texas, Clerk Katie Lang (not to be confused with the lesbian crooner) steadfastly refused to issue a marriage license to a gay couple, who have since filed a federal lawsuit and describe the experience as "humiliating and degrading."

Photos of Kim Davis' release from jail:

10 PHOTOS
Kim Davis (Kentucky clerk) since her release from jail
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Kim Davis is just the beginning
ABC NEWS - 9/21/15 - Paula Faris speaks to Kim Davis, the Kentucky court clerk who went to jail because she refused to issue gay marriage licenses. The exclusive interview will air on all ABC News programs and platforms. (Photo by Ida Mae Astute/ABC via Getty Images) PAULA FARIS, KIM DAVIS
ABC NEWS - 9/21/15 - Paula Faris speaks to Kim Davis, the Kentucky court clerk who went to jail because she refused to issue gay marriage licenses. The exclusive interview will air on all ABC News programs and platforms. (Photo by Ida Mae Astute/ABC via Getty Images) PAULA FARIS, KIM DAVIS, MATHEW STAVER (ATTORNEY)
ABC NEWS - 9/21/15 - Paula Faris speaks to Kim Davis, the Kentucky court clerk who went to jail because she refused to issue gay marriage licenses. The exclusive interview will air on all ABC News programs and platforms. (Photo by Ida Mae Astute/ABC via Getty Images) KIM DAVIS
MOREHEAD, KY - SEPTEMBER 14: Rowan County clerk Kim Davis walks through the halls of the courthouse on her first day back to work, after being released from jail last week, at the Rowan County Courthouse September 14, 2015 in Morehead, Kentucky. Davis was jailed for disobeying a judges order for denying marriage licenses to gay couples on the basis of her religious faith. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
GRAYSON, KY - SEPTEMBER 8: Rowan County Clerk of Courts Kim Davis (L) holds her hands in the air with her attorney Mat Staver (C) and her husband Joe Davis (R) in front of the Carter County Detention Center on September 8, 2015 in Grayson, Kentucky. Davis was ordered to jail last week for contempt of court after refusing a court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
GRAYSON, KY - SEPTEMBER 8: Rowan County Clerk of Courts Kim Davis (2L) joins hands with her attorney Mat Staver (2R), husband Joe Davis (R) and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee (L) in front of the Carter County Detention Center on September 8, 2015 in Grayson, Kentucky. Davis was ordered to jail last week for contempt of court after refusing a court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
GRAYSON, KY - SEPTEMBER 8: Rowan County Clerk of Courts Kim Davis (L) walks off stage with her husband Joe Davis (R) in front of the Carter County Detention Center on September 8, 2015 in Grayson, Kentucky. Davis was ordered to jail last week for contempt of court after refusing a court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
GRAYSON, KY - SEPTEMBER 8: Kim Davis, Clerk of Courts in Rowan County, Kentucky, looks over at Mike Huckabee after she was released from six days of incarceration at the Carter County Detention Center on September 8, 2015 in Grayson, Kentucky. Davis was ordered to jail last week for contempt of court after refusing a court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
GRAYSON, KY - SEPTEMBER 8: People hold signs in support of Rowan County Clerk of Courts Kim Davis during a rally in front of the Carter County Detention Center on September 8, 2015 in Grayson, Kentucky. Davis was ordered to jail last week for contempt of court after refusing a court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
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With both abortion access and marriage equality, many states had already enshrined those rights even before the landmark Supreme Court decisions that made them the law of the land. Roe and Obergefell affirmed those rights nationally, even in the most conservative states that were lagging behind. The same pattern was true in Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 case that overturned anti-miscegenation laws and allowed interracial couples to marry. The Supreme Court ruled, but local exercise of rights was challenging, if not impossible at times. Three years after Loving, interracial couples were getting turned away when they applied for marriage licenses in Alabama. Such opposition eventually died down, as it might in the case of gay marriage, too — although this certainly has not been true of a woman's right to choose.

Piecemeal restrictions have made it nearly impossible for most women to access abortion locally in the decades since Roe, and this week Congress is holding grandstanding hearings about Planned Parenthood's practices. When it was pointed out to anti-choice Idaho representative Raul Labrador that the nation's largest abortion provider had not broken any laws, he replied, "I don't know if it's illegal, Miss Smith, but it's immoral." Such logic presumably justified his and other officials' intervention to limit the constitutionally enshrined rights of women to seek abortion. That line of thinking — that personal morality trumps national legality — is on display in the high-profile protest of Kim Davis and in the comments of her supporters. The two issues are not parallel, because accessing a medical procedure is fundamentally different from obtaining a legal document. But a similar pattern could emerge with marriage rights across the country.

While I haven't heard a single LGBT activist declare the fight is over just because marriage equality is the law of the land, the fallout from Roe is a reminder that rights may be theoretically protected by the Supreme Court, but they can still be quite limited in practice, depending on the prevailing moral assumptions of your neighbors. Just as women shouldn't have to drive more than 100 miles to exercise their constitutional rights, same-sex couples shouldn't have to wonder whether their county courthouse will enable them to act within theirs.

Which is why, although Kim Davis has thoroughly co-opted "Eye of the Tiger" (against the will of its songwriter), the lessons of Rocky III are perhaps applicable to those of us who favor widespread equality. In the movie, according to a plot summary I read on IMDb, Rocky has won the ultimate title and grown complacent. He gets depressed, but eventually trains for a comeback, which is how he finds his purpose again. In the wake ofa Supreme Court ruling that confirms rights that we've long fought for, complacency is not an option. Although those of us who support Roe are so fatigued by the decades-long fight that it would be optimistic to say we're in pre-comeback depression mode, the marriage-equality situation is not quite so dire yet. It's early enough that we can work to prevent the same fate from befalling the rights guaranteed by Obergefell. We, too, are a strong people.

Photos of the public's reaction from Davis' refusal to issue same-sex marriage licenses:

11 PHOTOS
The fight for marriage equality in Kentucky, County Clerk Kim Davis
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Kim Davis is just the beginning
MOREHEAD, KY - SEPTEMBER 04: Michael Long (left) and Timothy Long, of Rowan County, raise their hands in front of a crowd of supporters after receiving their legal marriage license at the Rowan County Courthouse September 4, 2015 in Morehead, Kentucky. Kim Davis, an Apostolic Christian and a Rowan County clerk, refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling, citing religious objections. Davis was held in contempt of court and placed in Carter County jail on Thursday, September 3rd. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
MOREHEAD, KY - SEPTEMBER 04: A deputy clerk of the Clerk of Courts office fills out a marriage license for Timothy and Michael Long in the Rowan County Courthouse on Friday, September 4, 2015 in Morehead, Kentucky. Michael and Timothy live in Rowan County Kentucky. Kim Davis, an Apostolic Christian and a Rowan County clerk, refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling, citing religious objections. Davis was held in contempt of court and placed in Carter County jail on Thursday, September 3rd. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
MOREHEAD, KY - SEPTEMBER 14: Shannon (left) and Carmen Wampler-Collins walk out of the Rowan County Courthouse after receiving a legal marriage license from one of the Deputy Clerk of Courts September 14, 2015 in Morehead, Kentucky. Rowan County clerk Kim Davis was jailed for disobeying a judge's order for denying marriage licenses to gay couples on the basis of her religious faith. Today was Davis' first day back to work, after being released from jail last week. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
MOREHEAD, KY - SEPTEMBER 4: Jesse Cruz receives a hug from a same sex marriage supporter after he and his partner, Robbie Blankenship, received their legal marriage license at the Rowan County Courthouse on September 4, 2015 in Morehead, Kentucky. Blankenship and Cruz, of Columbus, Ohio, went to the Clerk of Courts office this past Wednesday and were denied a marriage license by the Rowan County Clerk of Courts Kim Davis.Davis, an Apostolic Christian and a Rowan County clerk, refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling, citing religious objections. Davis was held in contempt of court and placed in Carter County jail on Thursday, September 3rd. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
MOREHEAD, KY - SEPTEMBER 04: Michael Long and Timothy Long, of Rowan County, kiss in front of a crowd of supporters after receiving their legal marriage license at the Rowan County Courthouse September 4, 2015 in Morehead, Kentucky. Kim Davis, an Apostolic Christian and a Rowan County clerk, refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling, citing religious objections. Davis was held in contempt of court and placed in Carter County jail on Thursday, September 3rd. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
MOREHEAD, KY - SEPTEMBER 2: Robbie Blankenship (L) stands next to his partner of 20 years, Jesse Cruz, of Corpus Christie, Texas, as they speak with Rowan County Clerk of Courts Kim Davis at the County Clerks Office on September 2, 2015 in Morehead, Kentucky. Citing a sincere religious objection, Davis, an Apostolic Christian, has refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
MOREHEAD, KY - SEPTEMBER 2: Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk of Courts, listens to Robbie Blankenship and Jesse Cruz as they speak with her at the County Clerks Office on September 2, 2015 in Morehead, Kentucky. Citing a sincere religious objection, Davis, an Apostolic Christian, has refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
MOREHEAD, KY - SEPTEMBER 2: Robbie Blankenship (L) and his partner of 20 years, Jesse Cruz, of Corpus Christie, Texas, leave the Rowan County Clerks Office after being denied a marriage license on September 2, 2015 in Morehead, Kentucky. Citing a sincere religious objection, Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk of Courts, who is an Apostolic Christian, has refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
ASHLAND, KY - SEPTEMBER 3: Same-sex marriage supports demonstrate on the steps of the federal courthouse during Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis's hearing on September 3, 2015 in Ashland, Kentucky. Davis was held in contempt of court today after refusing a court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
MOREHEAD, KY - SEPTEMBER 04: A same sex marriage supporter wears badges on the back of her back pack during a protest in front of the Rowan County Courthouse September 4, 2015 in Morehead, Kentucky. Kim Davis, an Apostolic Christian and a Rowan County clerk, refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling, citing religious objections. Davis was held in contempt of court and placed in Carter County jail on Thursday, September 3rd. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
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