Kim Tabor sometimes wears a bright orange T-shirt bearing a slogan she’s found herself repeating for weeks: “Hello my name is not Kim Davis.”
Tabor works for the Rowan County Circuit Court Clerk, the office that handles court filings. Across the street is the Rowan County Clerk, where Kim Davis licenses marriages and has ignited the passions of religious conservatives around the world with her objections to same-sex marriage.
Tabor said people all over the country, confusing the two offices, have called the circuit court and asked for Kim. When she answers they start screaming.
The T-shirt keeps things light.
“Most people smile and laugh,” she said. “It has broken the tension in all of this chaos that’s going around.”
In the eastern Kentucky town at the center of the national conflict over same-sex marriage, screaming has too often replaced quiet conversation – or, more often, silence – on a subject that’s deeply personal to both sides. But a lot of people who will be here after the television trucks go away wonder what will happen once the furor fades.
Most of them know there’s more to the story than the high-decibel discussion that’s been playing out lately.
“There are no winners. Everybody’s been hurt,” said Lois Hawkins, a Morehead native who works as executive secretary to the county’s top elected official. “It’s going to be different. It can’t go back the way it was.”
Until two months ago, people in this small Appalachian town had an unspoken agreement to tiptoe around each other’s sexual identities and religious beliefs. But that uneasy truce was shattered after Davis, an Apostolic Christian, cited God’s authority as she defied a federal judge’s order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The judge threw her in jail, prompting a swarm of protesters and satellite trucks to invade the courthouse lawn. The turmoil forced deeply held beliefs out into the open, some for the first time.
In what was once a bustling hub of railroad traffic between Winchester and Ashland, the trains stopped running in 1974, preserving Morehead’s small-town feel. The university has attracted a diverse population of religious and social viewpoints in an otherwise conservative swath of eastern Kentucky. And its programs for students have shaped a generation of political leaders, including Walter Blevins, the county’s top elected official.
Blevins spent his summers attending the university’s academic prep program, which he said changed him “politically and perhaps morally as well.”
“It was the first time I’ve ever been around any black people in my life,” said Blevins, a Democrat. “It kind of awakened you to, ‘Hey, we’re all human beings.'”
The university’s influence has frustrated some religious conservatives, including Randy Smith, an evangelist who has lived in Morehead since he was 12. Without it, he said, the community would have no issues with Davis and her actions. Now, he says, the conflict is “forcing people to address an underlying issue that’s been here for a long time.”
“I think … a lot of it is the community wants things to go back to normalcy. But oftentimes if things go back to normalcy it means somebody has got to give up something,” he said. “I think you will see more same-sex people out and they won’t be as discreet as they once were in this community. And I think you will probably have more Christians that will possibly look upon that with some disdain.”
For months, a group of Morehead citizens have held protests in front of Davis’ office, calling themselves the Rowan County Rights Organization. Most of its members “live here, work here and have kids that go to school here,” spokeswoman Nashia Fife said. Some in the group have health problems, and Fife said Davis and her staff would often bring them water.
“This has been pretty hard because a lot of us are friends with Kim Davis and her family,” said Fife, whose husband works with Davis’ daughter. “I mean, we don’t talk about this stuff.”
Protesters and supporters alike have come to Rowan County. Ante Pavkovic, a pastor from North Carolina, stood in the lobby of the county clerks’ office on Wednesday with a sign demanding the deputy clerks be fired for issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“Thinking of what the sodomites have done should make you sick,” he said to the clerks, who mostly kept their heads down while a sheriff’s deputy watched.
Mark Shrayber and Allen Corona, a gay couple from San Francisco, traveled to Morehead to get married, saying they wanted to make a statement against discrimination. Shrayber said he’s not upset that Davis was released, but he’s disgusted that she is being treated as a martyr.
“We are in 2015. We are not burning witches anymore,” he said.
Davis, who plans to return to work on Monday, has said any marriage licenses issued without her authority are not valid. Deputy Clerk Brian Mason said Wednesday that if he has to, he will disobey his boss and continue issuing licenses rather than refuse the orders of U.S. District Judge David Bunning.
Tabor said she now dreads filing past the television cameras each morning as she comes to work. She hates what the world might think of her hometown.
“I hope people keep an open mind and just come and see for themselves. We are so much more than what’s going on today,” she said. “I have been taught that it’s God’s place to judge and the Holy Spirit’s place to convict. It’s my place to love.”
Galofaro reported from Louisville, Kentucky.
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