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Kim Davis Takes Struggle Against Gay Marriage To Another Theater: Romania

Kim Davis, seen in 2015 outside the Rowan County Judicial Center in Morehead, Ky.
Timothy D. Easley
Kim Davis, seen in 2015 outside the Rowan County Judicial Center in Morehead, Ky.

Kim Davis has taken her fight against same-sex marriage far beyond the borders of her native Kentucky lately — far beyond even U.S. shores. The Rowan County clerk, who was jailed briefly in 2015 for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, headed to Romania this week to push for a change to the country's constitution.

That change would clarify the definition of marriage from "between spouses" to a clearer delineation of genders. In Romania, where homosexuality was fully decriminalized in 2002, the civil code already specifies that marriage is a legal union between a man and a woman.

A massively popular petition last year called for a referendum that would cement the ban on same-sex marriage. Any referendum still needs the final approval of the country's lawmakers to move forward.

Davis has embarked on a nine-day visit backing the campaign, joined by Harry Mihet of Liberty Counsel, the conservative legal group that represented her during her 2015 legal fight. According to the group, that trip includes meetings with archbishops in the predominantly Orthodox Christian country, speaking engagements and stops in the capital, Bucharest, as well as several other cities.

"I am so glad for this amazing opportunity to finally introduce Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis personally to my Romanian people," Mihet, a native Romanian, said in a statement Tuesday. He suggested a parallel between the campaign to definitively outlaw same-sex marriage and Romanians' bloody fight to throw off the yoke of its former communist regime.

"Her story resonates loudly with them, and they are receiving her tearfully and very warmly, because they can still remember the not-so-long-ago days when they were themselves persecuted and imprisoned for their conscience. The freedom of conscience transcends national, cultural, religious and denominational lines, and Romanians are determined to prevent such injustice from ever happening again in their country."

Local LGBTQ advocates such as the Romanian organization Accept see Davis' visit in starkly different terms.

The organizers of one event in Bucharest, for instance, "falsely promote Christian hero Kim Davis, an American citizen convicted by U.S. courts in 2015 ... as a heroine of religious freedom," the group said in a statement Tuesday. "The right to dignity is equally guaranteed to all citizens of Romania, including the Constitution, and its violation cannot be justified by religiously motivated prejudices."

"We are seeing a determined attempt to use religion or traditional themes to oppose human rights," said Cristian Parvulescu, founder of a platform that claims the support of 100 nongovernmental organizations, according to The Guardian. "We know how this ends."

Davis drew national attention in the U.S. two years ago, just months after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. In direct contradiction to that ruling, Davis repeatedly refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, citing her religious beliefs. Ultimately she was found in contempt of court and locked up for five days, becoming an icon to opponents of same-sex marriage in the process.

Despite her relatively high profile in the U.S., it remains unclear just how effective her visit will be in Romania. (Sites like Vice Romania have published explainers lately on who, exactly, she is.) But the legal change she is campaigning for has the potential to upset relations with a European Union that has generally been trending in the opposite direction. It might put the country "on a collision course with Brussels," Politico notes.

The Guardian reports that the Coalition for the Family, a set of 40 groups pushing for the change, said in a statement that it is worried about more important things.

"We have the constitutional right and moral obligation to defend the family from trends in modern society that reduce its importance and accelerate its decline," it said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.