You've all heard so much about the shenanigans of Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Kentucky clerk who did her very best to prevent her government office from issuing marriage licenses, now that the law requires her to issue them to all citizens, and not just the ones whose marriages she approves of.
So I'm not going to talk about Kim Davis. But I think we need to talk about what's underneath her actions. We need to talk about bubbles.
Earlier this year, there was a kerfuffle that began in Indiana (remember Memories Pizza?) around religious freedom. The issue at hand then is the same one we're hearing about now. And it's a smoke screen for people who might not even be aware that they're living in a bubble.
Living in a bubble means that however you got there—because of growing up and remaining in a group of like-minded people, or because you've created our own safe space—you're now wrapped in a protective carapace of resistance to what makes you uncomfortable, to what might challenge your worldview. For example, some Christians are in a bubble of people who wouldn't see anything wrong with a sign in a public shop window on Sunday morning that reads, "See y'all in church!"
If you don't see what's wrong with that sign, you need to test for bubbles.
But back to Indiana. There is a legal provision called RFRA, or Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The history and application in the U.S. of this provision is long and complicated; you can search details on the Internet, or check out this Wikipedia page. It's been used in a variety of ways to prevent the government from overrunning individual citizens' right to practice the religion of their choice. And it's been misused in a variety of ways, as well.
The period between January of 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, and late April, when the case would be argued, was tempestuous in the extreme for gay citizens and their detractors. As is so often the case when one side of a controversial issue gets closer to their goal, the other side pushes back. In the past, I've heard some pretty wild and crazy things blamed on "the gays," but the stuff that went flying through the air this past spring gave "wild and crazy" a whole new dimension.
It was during this period that the Indiana state government introduced a state-based RFRA, and it was signed by Governor Mike Pence as he insisted that it had nothing to do with gay rights or marriage equality. The only people who seem to have believed him were those who supported the RFRA.
Thanks to major corporations and organizations refusing to build, expand, and/or hold meetings in Indiana, and to the outcry from LGBT activists, Pence and the state legislature were eventually... um... persuaded to amend the bill to prevent many types of discrimination.
Under the original version of the Indiana RFRA, any citizen in the state could refuse to interact personally or professionally with another individual or entity if that interaction was likely to cause a hardship on that first citizen's religious belief system. Of course, in the case of Memories Pizza, it would have meant they could—as they asserted they would do—refuse to cater for the reception of a gay couple's wedding. And without doubt, that was the intent of Pence and his ilk.
But the point I want to make isn't about what happened or why, though those are rich areas to explore. The thing is, the Pence people should have thought it through. Because unwittingly, in passing their RFRA, they were giving rights to people who don't reside inside Pence's religious bubble.
Let's say I'm an Atheist (yes, that's allowed in the U.S.), working as an EMT medic for an ambulance company. Say I'm married with a few kids under the age of twelve, and across the street is this rabid Evangelical Christian family. The parents are always parading around trying to convert the neighbors, leaving flyers, verbally assaulting anyone who'll stand still long enough. And their kids are always cornering my kids in the playground, study hall, anyplace they can, and spewing offensive dogma about how my whole family is going to hell to be tortured by eternal fire. My little girl has twice come home crying because of this.
One night while I'm on the job, my ambulance gets a call to the house of those "Christians" across the street from my house. The husband is having a major heart event. According to the original RFRA Governor Pence signed into law, I could legally refuse to help that man. I won't do that, because I'm an Atheist; I have a high moral bar, and I won't watch someone die if I can help them, even if they're as obnoxious as this guy on the floor gasping for breath. No, I won't deny him my services, even for religious reasons, even though Governor Pence and the state legislature said I could.
You see what happened? I'm not in their bubble. But Pence and his ilk didn't consider anyone outside their bubble. It would seem that it never even occurred to them that someone might call on their right to discriminate against him. And that's living inside a bubble.
So this thing with Kim Davis (sorry; have to come full circle) isn't about her divorces and how that flies in the face of the Bible she professes to adhere to. (Even the anti-gay crazies at the Westboro Baptist Church call Davis out on that.) It isn't even really about whether she's doing her job (she isn't, but she was elected, so good luck jettisoning her out of it). It's about bubbles.
It's about realizing that none of us is the center of the universe, no matter how strong the walls are to protect us from having to deal with ideas that make us uncomfortable. It's about accepting that you're not going to agree with everyone on everything, and—hold your hat, Kim Davis—they're not all going to agree with you, either.
If people like Davis and Pence want to live in a bubble where all citizens must adhere to one viewpoint, must live by one set of religious views, must forgo human and civil rights that other citizens have—well, I have a couple of suggestions for countries they should consider moving to. Pence might be okay with them. But Davis, as a woman, would not.
In the words of physicist Richard Feynman (Nobel Prize, Physics, 1965): "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself. And you are the easiest person to fool."