MOREHEAD, Ky. (AP) — As a defiant Kentucky clerk sat in jail Friday, choosing indefinite imprisonment over licensing gay marriages, her lawyers approached the microphones outside and compared her to Dr. Martin Luther King.
Around the country, other supporters reached for Biblical heroes, comparing her to Silas and Daniel, imprisoned for their faith and rescued by God.
It’s precisely the narrative gay rights advocates had hoped to avoid. But as Davis’ mug shot rocketed around the Internet, it became clear that the gay rights movement must battle this idea that Christianity is under siege, said Kenneth Upton, senior counsel for Lambda Legal, a law firm specializing in LGBT issues.
“This is what the other side wants,” Upton said, pointing to the image of Davis in handcuffs. “This is a Biblical story, to go to jail for your faith. We don’t want to make her a martyr to the people who are like her, who want to paint themselves as victims.”
Since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in June, Davis and a handful of other clerks and judges, advised by the Christian law firm Liberty Counsel, have refused to comply. They stopped issuing marriage licenses to any couple, gay or straight. Davis was merely the first to be challenged in court.
The American Civil Liberties Union, representing couples she turned away, asked that she be fined rather than imprisoned, in part to avoid “a false persecution story,” said Dan Canon, one of the attorneys. But U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning ordered her to jail anyway, reasoning that she would be unmoved by monetary penalties.
“I think he was trying to make an example of Kim Davis, and he may well do so,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, which lobbies against gay marriage. “Courage breeds courage, especially when it comes from unlikely places. She may be the example that sparks a firestorm of resistance across this country.”
Chris Hartman, director of Louisville’s Fairness Campaign, dismissed the small number of holdout clerks as a “blip on the radar of civil rights.”
Yet Davis is suddenly famous around the globe as the face of Christian resistance to gay marriage. The crowded field of Republican presidential candidates mostly took her side. Candidate Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, announced he would visit Davis in Kentucky next week, and said “we must end the criminalization of Christianity.”