MOREHEAD, Ky. (AP) — Kim Tabor hates to answer the phone these days, because so often the caller starts screaming.
Tabor works for the Rowan County Circuit Court Clerk, which keeps track of criminal and civil filings in a town that prides itself on peace and quiet. Marriages are handled across the street, where Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis has ignited the passions of religious conservatives around the world by refusing to authorize weddings for anyone since the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide.
Tabor said people have called from all over, confusing the two offices. They ask for Kim, and when she answers, they don’t wait for her explanation before they start screaming.
In this eastern Kentucky town, now center stage in a national conflict, angry words and gestures have too often replaced quiet conversation – or, more often, silence – on a subject deeply personal to both sides. But many who will remain after the television trucks go away hope things will get better.
Most know there’s more to their town’s story than the high-decibel discussion that’s been playing out lately.
“There are no winners. Everybody’s been hurt,” said Lois Hawkins, a Morehead native who works as the executive secretary to the county’s top elected official. “It’s going to be different. It can’t go back the way it was.”
Until two months ago, the people in this small town in the Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky had an unspoken agreement to tiptoe around each other’s sexual identities and religious beliefs.
But that uneasy truce was shattered after Davis, an Apostolic Christian, cited God’s authority to defy a federal judge’s order that she issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. A judge threw her in jail last week, drawing a swarm of protesters and satellite trucks to the courthouse lawn and forcing townspeople to bring their deeply held beliefs out into the open, some for the first time.
In what was once a bustling hub of railroad traffic between Winchester and Ashland, the trains stopped running in 1974, preserving Morehead’s small-town feel. Until recently it was mostly known as the home for Morehead State University and its men’s basketball team, which occasionally lands in the NCAA tournament.
The university has attracted a diverse population of religious and social viewpoints in an otherwise conservative swath of eastern Kentucky, and shaped a generation of political leaders, including Hawkins’ boss, Walter Blevins, who spent his summers attending the university’s academic prep program.
Blevins said the university changed him “politically and perhaps morally as well.”