Why It’s Okay To Talk About Kim Davis’ Multiple Marriages
There has been some discussions in the liberal circles lately as to whether the messy personal history of Kim Davis — an anti-gay county clerk from Kentucky who claims that the US Constitution and Jesus give her the right to use her authority as a government official to deny other people’s Constitutional rights — is an appropriate subject for public dissection. Specifically, it has been said that to bring up her multiple marriages is a form of “slut shaming”, or that because she did all that adultery stuff before she found Jesus, it’s irrelevant to her anti-gay stance. I disagree on both accounts. Here is why.
At the risk of elucidating the obvious, context matters. To bring up a woman’s tempestuous personal life in a discussion about, say, the quality of her artwork, or whether she can do science, or whether she should be entitled to the same rights and benefits as “respectable” women is slut shaming. Bringing up a woman’s sexual and marital immorality (as that concept is understood within the religious tradition which she claims to follow) to illustrate the hypocrisy of her grandstanding on the subject of other people’s love lives is not “slut shaming”. It’s not “slut shaming” just like bringing up the fact that the Leviticus doesn’t seem to put a damper on Evangelical Christians’ bacon consumption isn’t “fat shaming”.
I agree that Kim Davis’ hatred of gay people, her willingness to abuse her position of power to hurt them, her failure to understand that as a public official, she is in fact the very Boogeyman Government that conservatives claim to revile — all these things, standing alone, are bad enough. Still, the fact that she fails to abide by the very sexual strictures she seeks to place on others makes it much, much worse. Hypocrisy may not be the central point; but it’s definitely an exacerbating factor. (And besides, having one’s personal life under a microscope is the price justly imposed on anyone playing the part of a poster child for moral conservatism.)
The fact that Kim Davis did all her multiple marriages, adulteries and love child-bearing before she decided to become a conservative Christian does not make her any less of a hypocrite. Davis is an Apostolic Pentecostalist. Under the rules of that particular sect, divorce is never allowed, save in exceptional circumstances. (The fact that one’s spouse is an “unbeliever” is not a ground for divorce, by the way.) Consequently, her religion requires her to go back to her first husband; and, if he is unwilling to take her back, accept a life of virtue (i.e. indefinite celibacy; hey, no one said Jesusy life is supposed to be easy, right?). This means, that under the rules of her own church, Davis’ current marriage is invalid, and she’s living in sin.
Now, granted, I don’t know how her congregation has decided to deal with it. Maybe they’ve repaid her anti-gay bigotry with simply ignoring the 800-pound gorilla in the corner. Maybe those in charge employed some ridiculously legalistic pretzel-twisting to absolve her of her ongoing sin. Maybe they’ve “forgiven” her, so she doesn’t have to do what’s right in the eyes of her own religion because it’s just too damn hard. But if her church has decided to flaunt its own rules for her sake, this is merely part of the larger hypocrisy of religious fundamentalism that we can, and should, talk about.
Even if the theology that Davis’ sect adheres to treated her fourth marriage as valid, she would still be a hypocrite — because I don’t see any indication that Davis is willing to submit to the same kind of treatment she extends to LGBT couples who expect her to do her job. Many conservative religious sects either don’t allow divorce or put significant limitations on it. Would Kim Davis be okay with members of those sects using their power to kick her to the curb? Imagine if a hospital’s Catholic receptionist refused to allow Davis to see her husband (if he were, godforbid, hospitalized) because of said receptionist’s Sincerely Held Religious Belief that Davis isn’t really married to her fourth husband? How would she feel if an Eastern Orthodox school principal kicked her kids out of their public school on the ground that his Sincerely Held Religious Beliefs don’t permit him to educate children of a harlot? What if the County Treasurer refused to cut Davis’ paycheck because his Sincerely Held Religious Belief is that a woman should not serve as a government official, especially an adulteress with four marriages under her belt? How would Kim Davis feel about that? Would she meekly accept that other people’s Sincerely Held Religious Beliefs are a valid reason to treat her like garbage and deny her legal rights and benefits? Or would she scream bloody murder and run to file a lawsuit?
Hypocrisy does not define bigotry — but it almost always accompanies it. There is nothing unfair or sexist in pointing it out.