Before Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis was jailed for sticking to her religious beliefs, Janell Ross of the Washington Post was quick to take sides against her. On September 2 the Post headlined the story as follows: “We Have Reached the George Wallace Stage of the Same-Sex Marriage Fight.”
Ross begins this accusation with the same amount of objectivity as her headline:
There's a long and not exactly auspicious history in this country of people resisting court orders aimed at defending the civil rights of minority groups. On Tuesday, a Kentucky county clerk named Kim Davis created the basis for the latest chapter. Davis is refusing to issue marriage licenses to anyone so that she might avoid the task of having to issue or refuse to issue one to a gay or lesbian couple. (Emphasis Added)
Ross is not ignorant of the religious element in this controversy:
Davis is free to believe whatever she would like; this is America. However, multiple courts have said she is not at liberty to impose her beliefs at work in such a way that the legal rights, options and access of others are curtailed. Of course, from Davis's point of view — and that of many Americans who agree with her, especially white evangelicals, according to a June 2014 Public Religion Research Institute poll — forcing her to issue licenses to same-sex couples impinges on her religious liberty.
Ross then compares Davis to one of America’s most infamous racists:
The real issue -- if you know something about the history of American moments like the one that Davis has brought to pass, and even if you don't — is that legally, Davis has put herself in league with men like former Alabama governor George Wallace.
In addition to the fact that homosexuality and race are not equivalent, Ross’s comparison fails when one realizes that Davis refused to give marriage licenses to ALL couples. This was an equal opportunity shutdown of licenses, not an exclusion of gays in particular.
After reviewing a number of comments on the issue from Republican candidates, Ross compared the phrase “religious liberty” to the infamous “states’ rights” rhetoric that was used to justify America’s past evils:
That kind of logic is also precisely why some people understand "religious liberty" to be the new "states' rights" — a catchphrase that sounds principled and connected with American ideals but can also be used to resist established legal change. States' rights (and its local equivalent) have in the past formed the basis of legal and public arguments for reserving the nation's best-resourced schools, neighborhoods, parks, pools and hospitals for white people. Those arguments helped keep Catholics and Jews out of public offices and certain communities, led state officials in some places to shut down all public schools rather than integrate, made it possible to impose black codes and sundown laws that made it illegal for black people to even be present in certain places in this country. And, of course, those arguments undergirded legal slavery. (Emphasis Added)
It’s nice to know that the Post’s first reaction to cries for “religious liberty” is to sound the alarm of Jim Crow racism that no one is advocating. It assures its audience of quality objectivity.
To her credit, Ross does not think that the Wallace comparison is a perfect fit for this situation:
The parallels between Davis and Wallace, of course, have their limits. Wallace's stand at that University of Alabama door came after years of organized and sometimes loosely coordinated efforts to ignore, evade or resist the contents of court orders and laws directing the integration of public and most private facilities open to the public....[T]he showdown shaping up in Kentucky should not be understood as random or isolated. Kentucky and Alabama — states notably with large white evangelical populations — have their respective histories and must also contend with the present. Right now, Alabama is busy charting new territory in the effort to resist legal same-sex marriage. This month, a state legislative committee voted for a measure that, should it reach and pass the full state Senate, could eliminate state-issued marriage licenses. (Emphasis Added)
So, the Davis phenomenon, which is apparently fueled by white evangelical populations, is arguable worse than Wallace because it is not isolated? Do black and Hispanic clergy uniformly stand against Davis? Are they divided on the issue? What about the non-religious? For someone who makes a living writing about race and equality, Ross tellingly neglects to present any data on what the black and Hispanic populations think about Davis’ decision to stand by her convictions.
Ross concludes her smear against Davis with this epilogue:
Americans can and do disagree about same-sex marriage. But in public life, equal treatment under the law ranks among the hallmarks of the American experiment. The struggle to make equality real — meaning consistent, unabridged and unconditional — remains an ongoing project. (Emphasis Added)
Not surprisingly, Ross does not take note of the fact that legalizing homosexual marriage has not achieved equality, but merely privileged two forms of monogamy over polygamy, incest, and bestiality. Equally absent is the observance of the fact that religious freedom is spelled out as a constitutional protection while identity politics is not.
Regardless of who ultimately wins the culture war over religious liberty on remains certain: the Washington Post has chosen its side.