By: Shannon Ralph
Until today, I have not written a single word about Kim Davis. In part, this is because others have addressed the issue of the fanatical Kentucky clerk with such eloquence and such cool composure that I am embarrassed by my own gut response. I have been completely incapable of discussing Ms. Davis with anything even remotely approaching composure. When I read about Kim Davis in the news or see her on the television, I feel something akin to white hot rage. My chest tightens, by stomach flutters, and I want to scream. It’s visceral and not the least bit pleasant. I’m not at all proud of this reaction.
But here’s the thing. I was born in Kentucky. I grew up in that state. I don’t know Kim Davis personally, but I know her type intimately. I am well acquainted with the type of “Christian” who lives to denigrate. Who practices a vocal and public religiosity that is so far removed from the teachings of Jesus that it would be laughable if it weren’t so immediately terrifying. Who feels she is chosen and empowered by “God’s authority” to tell others how they should live their lives. Who screeches about the speck in her neighbor’s eye, all the while ignoring the giant plank of hypocrisy jutting from her own thrice-divorced eyes.
Yeah…unfortunately, I know the type.
In many ways, the Kim Davises of Kentucky are the reason my wife and I left our home state almost 18 years ago to move to Minneapolis. We knew way back then that we wanted to be parents, and we realized—as much as we loved growing up in Kentucky ourselves—that we could not raise our own family there. We could not even create the family we wanted in Kentucky. There were no resources for families like ours. No fertility clinics willing to embrace a lesbian couple hoping to have a baby. There were no laws in place to protect our families. No second-parent adoptions. No school-based LGBT support systems in place. Had we decided to stay, the well-being and stability of our family would have been subject to the whims of an often uninformed and occasionally downright corrupt governmental system. We would have been subject to the whims of the many Kim Davises of Kentucky.
So we left and we never looked back. We created a home and a family in Minneapolis and have fully embraced our little liberal enclave of the country. We live a life far removed from Kim Davis. So far removed, in fact, that it is easy to pretend that people like Ms. Davis do not exist. If anything, they are cartoon characters. They can’t reach us. They can’t touch us. They can’t affect me, and they certainly can’t hurt my children.
So, if she can’t affect me, why do I feel such rage? And why do I feel compelled to write about Kim Davis now?
Ms. Davis was released from jail today. Nothing changed between Thursday of last week when she was initially jailed and today when she was released. She is still collecting an $80,000 a year paycheck while refusing to perform the duties of the job she was elected to do. She still blatantly refuses to uphold the laws she swore to uphold. She still intends to act in defiance of the Supreme Court’s ruling. In contempt of every court who has ruled on her actions. Yet she was released from jail today. She walked away from the Carter County Detention Center triumphantly. In tears. With her arms raised high. She was met by a rousing crowd of supporters and a candidate for the presidency of our nation who praised her for showing “more courage than any politician I know.” Her victorious release today was aired on television, of course. On the nightly news. Beamed right into my living room in liberal Minneapolis.
And I had to explain it to my 12-year-old son.
I had to explain why a potential presidential nominee finds it courageous to break the law and to belittle families like ours. I had to explain why gay marriage—his parents’ marriage—evokes such extreme hatred and anger in seemingly normal people. Why people think his family is “different” and “weird” and “wrong.” Why radical Christian exclamations of “We don’t need the Supreme Court when we have the Supreme Being” are just as dangerous and just as scary as radical Muslim declarations of jihad. I had to explain this all to my children, and it PISSED ME OFF to no end.
My kids love Kentucky. My family loads into our Honda Pilot and we make the 12-hour trek to Kentucky at least once a year to visit family and friends. It’s “vacation” for my kids. They associate Kentucky with their Uncle Matt, who they absolutely adore. With The Big Dipper, a dinky little drive-through in Owensboro that they are pretty certain makes the best milkshakes in the entire country. With numerous cousins and funny accents and heat and humidity and family and fun. In short, they love everything about Kentucky.
The first week of school, my 9-year-old son had to complete a poster all about himself. It asked the usual questions…favorite book, favorite food, favorite color. It also asked that he list his favorite place to visit. Of course, he listed his beloved Kentucky.
But today my children saw the ugly side of their cherished Kentucky. And I can’t deny that this version exists. It is very real. Kim Davis is real. She is hypocritical and ill-advised and short-sighted and hateful and fashionably-challenged and really just completely ludicrous, but she is real. And she marched triumphantly out of that jail today with “Eye of the Tiger” blaring in the background.
It fills me with rage. It makes me wants to scream. To curse. To punch someone. My reaction to this silly woman is completely ridiculous and out-of-character for me. It’s unsettling, to say the least. But Kim Davis’ actions feel personal in a way that the antics of Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee and the Westboro Baptist Church and all the other “Christian” conservatives in this country do not. Maybe it’s my link to Kentucky. Maybe it’s my children. Maybe it’s just that I feel like I know her. That I could have even been her under different circumstances. Whatever the reason, it’s personal.
And that is why I have not written about Kim Davis until now. I didn’t know how to put into words how her actions have shaken me. How they have enraged and scared me. How they have made me confront the fact that we are not done. That many families like mine still live in a tenuous state—subject to the scorn of so-called “Christians.” That hate is robust. And injustice is real. That the world I want my children to grow up in does not exist. At least not here. At least not yet.
We still have work to do. As long as the whims of zealots like Kim Davis can determine the fate of entire minority groups—whether that be on issues of LGBT rights, immigration, racial inequality, or a woman’s right to control her own body—we cannot quit. We cannot forget that we have a responsibility to create the world we want our children to inherit. Our children deserve that world.
MY children deserve that world.