By KAYLEIGH RUBIN
50 years ago, Rosa Parks defied legal segregation by refusing to sit in the “colored” section of a Montgomery bus, becoming the first lady of civil rights. Two weeks ago, Kim Davis violated the Supreme Court’s opinion on gay marriage by refusing to issue marriage certificates to same sex couples and was consequently and is now being hailed as a martyr for religious freedom. While Rosa Parks was a private citizen engaging in civil disobedience, Kim Davis is a public official refusing to fulfill her position as county clerk. While Rosa Parks was an activist for minorities, Kim Davis is an opponent of tolerance. And though gay marriage dissenters and GOP candidates alike are now comparing the women, the pair’s sole commonality is that they both spent time in jail. Rosa Parks was a hero, advocating for racial equality; Kim Davis is a criminal, defending orientation-based discrimination.
On August 28, Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis refused to sign a marriage license for same-sex couple Carmen and Shannon Wampler-Collins. Davis, arguing that authorizing the license violated her religious beliefs, was subsequently arrested and held in jail for five days on the charge of contempt of court. Davis was released on the grounds that she not interfere with the issuing of marriage licenses and returned home to hundreds of letters from fans. Most notably, Republican presidential candidates Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal have championed Davis as a protector of the First Amendment. Though the court apprehended Davis and the Wampler-Collinses have since married, this incidence nonetheless represents a burgeoning civil rights crisis.
While the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, the justices did not guarantee members of the LGBT community equal or civil protections under the law. The Court’s decision, while momentous and honorable, granted marriage equality without building any barriers against legal discrimination. In fact, in 31 states LGBT citizens are currently at risk for being fired, evicted or refused service due to their sexual or gender orientation. Another 21 states have passed Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, allowing people and businesses to object to servicing gay individuals on religious grounds. Most recently, according to a poll co-sponsored by The Huffington Post and YouGov, 44 percent of Americans believe Kim Davis should not have been arrested for violating the Supreme Court decision.
The primary reason behind such dissent and discrimination is the belief that religious freedom and gay rights are fundamentally antithetical. However paradoxical these concepts may seem, they can and should coexist. The freedom of religion is the ability to practice one’s faith without restraint, not the right to impart one’s beliefs on others. In refusing to accommodate or respect the LGBT community, religious followers are forcing their beliefs onto others rather than actively abiding by the ancient teachings that state, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” A vast number of behaviors are considered sinful by a vast number of religions, yet it is important to evaluate such “sins” with logic and morality rather than hide behind a blindfold of piety. A baker does not refuse service to a gluttonous customer, so why should a county clerk (who also made an oath to uphold the Constitution) refuse marriage certificates to gay couples?
In order to combat further marginalization, Congress ought to enact the Equality Act of 2015, an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that bans discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity. However, while the average American cannot vote in favor of this act, we can begin by noting that Kim Davis is not the modern day equivalent of Rosa Parks. She is George Wallace.