The attorney representing a Kentucky county clerk who has defied several federal court orders to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples has a long history of making anti-LGBT statements.
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who was jailed last week for contempt of court, is being represented by the conservative Christian law firm Liberty Counsel, although it’s unclear whether Davis approached the firm or vice versa. Davis is the latest and most high-profile in a string of clients Liberty Counsel has defended, from Alabama probate judges who also refused to grant same-sex marriage licenses to Scott Lively, the Massachusetts pastor at the center of a crimes against humanity lawsuit over his role in the persecution of gay Ugandans.
Attorney Mathew Staver and his wife, Anita, founded Liberty Counsel in 1989. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups, added the law firm to its roster of anti-LGBT hate groups in 2014, citing the group’s belief that same-sex marriage will destroy the “bedrock of society” and its support for gay conversion therapy.
Staver himself went as far as to speak approvingly of tough anti-gay laws in foreign countries like Russia in a 2014 appearance on “Faith and Freedom” radio.
“They’re reaffirming marriage as one man and one woman,” Staver said at the time. “Russia is one of those countries recently that did that. Latin American countries have reaffirmed marriage as one man and one woman. Then other countries around the world are reaffirming marriage as one man and one woman and rejecting this radicalized homosexual agenda.”
The lawyer later dodged a question from Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) about those remarks in a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on religious freedom laws, as Raw Story pointed out. Asked whether he advocated for laws similar to Russia’s anti-gay measures, Staver told Cohen that he merely was concerned about Christians being forced to participate in something that violated their religious beliefs.
“So you’re not in favor of the Russian antigay laws and what I read was wrong?” Cohen asked.
“I don’t know what you read,” Staver responded. “I haven’t spoken on the Russian laws.”
Staver’s takes on subjects including Mitt Romney and LGBT history month have also been eyebrow-raising. He blamed the former Massachusetts governor’s unwillingness to embrace social issues for the legalization of gay marriage in four states, and called public schools’ celebration of LGBT figures in history a “sexual assault on our children.”
Most recently, Staver compared Davis’ plight to that of Jews in Nazi Germany in an interview on Christian radio network VCY America. He argued last week that until a Supreme Court decision legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in June, it wasn’t in a county clerk’s job description to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple.
“Does that mean that if you’re Christian, don’t apply here?” Staver said in the interview, which was flagged by Right Wing Watch. “What happened in Nazi Germany, what happened there first, they removed the Jews from government public employment. Then they stopped patronizing them in their private businesses. Then they continued to stigmatize them. Then they were the ‘problems.’ Then they killed them.”
“The fact of the matter is, she has a right to this employment and you don’t lose your constitutional liberties just because you’re employed by the government,” he added.
Davis’ extremely high-profile case has also invited questions about whether the Liberty Counsel is using the clerk to either advance an anti-LGBT agenda or otherwise enrich itself.
In an email interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal, Staver would not say what advice he gave Davis prior to the Thursday hearing where she refused to agree to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, landing herself in a jail cell for contempt of court. Staver did say that Liberty Counsel “would never counsel a client to violate the law,” however.
A reporter also asked Staver directly in a Friday press conference whether Liberty Counsel was profiting off Davis’ case.
“Do you ask that question of the ACLU?” he retorted.
Catherine Thompson is a senior editor for Talking Points Memo in New York City. She came to the site in 2013 and reported on national affairs. Previously, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She can be reached at email@example.com.