Kim Davis, County Clerk, is Not a Person

Here’s how we might solve the standoff opposition between left and right over the Kim Davis issue. Let’s send America back to Civics class!

Citizens need a refresher on the differences in meaning between a “legal person” and a flesh-and-blood one. And we need to do a better job of it than Mitt Romney did when he said, “corporations are people, my friend.”

They’re not, in fact, although they are “legal persons.” But not all “persons” are the same.

Some are sheer legal fictions, for instance, such as corporations, universities, and trusts.  Another salient legal fiction includes the use of the personal name that gets attached by signature to an official state document. I think we need to be clear that these legal fiction persons are not identical to the real people bearing the same names.

Simply, “Kim Davis, County Clerk” does not mean the same as “Kim Davis, herself, or as daughter, wife, mother, sister, and so on.” They may point to the same human body, but they don’t mean the same thing.

Once Kim Davis, County Clerk clocks out, she is Kim Davis, part of the “people. She can’t, for example, “permit” her husband to add on an unpermitted addition to their house, just to keep peace in the home. That Kim Davis stays in her office, literally. She doesn’t own her job in the way she owns her body. A civic office is not Kim’s private property. This is the United States of America, not some place where police extort bribes because they feel they own their offices, like franchises, or “turf,” onto which you have been unlucky enough to have trespassed. Public offices are not like the “businesses” Tony Soprano “owns,” the use for which you have to pay what he demands on top of the cost of service. Tony’s “businesses” are very personal things, part of himself. And, thinking this way about public offices is precisely what defines “corruption” means.

Flip the coin, and just as Kim Davis does not own the County clerkship, despite her mother having served in it before her, Kim’s private property, say, her body, does not belong to the state.

The temptation is great for a real person to identify with their legal person—as the irritating media practice of calling former office holders by their legal personal names, encourages. So, no matter how long it has been since Newt Gingrich, Colin Powell, Michelle Bachman or Jimmy Carter separated from being Speaker of the House, General, Congresswoman, President, they still remain “Speaker Gingrich”, General Powell,” and so on, replete with all the unctuous deference laid on them, as if they still held those offices.

I do not advocate disrespect, but perpetuating identities they no longer hold smacks of feudalism. Is this how democracies end and class societies began, with a person’s civic role identity attached indelibly to his or her moral person?

No need to worry about an Eichmann scenario of claiming freedom of moral responsibility because one was just doing one’s job. Both as a legal fiction and as a real person, Eichmann identified with a job that was itself immoral and unjust. Giving out marriage licenses is not in itself evil.

Yet, while Kim Davis is still required to sign the name of her moral person to official documents, she still fears implicating her moral person in — what, to her, are — immoral acts.

In this case, the problem that Ms. Davis had in signing the marriage licenses because they transgressed her conscience could be obviated by calling attention to the fact that it was not Kim Davis in person with a conscience and religious beliefs that had the name “Kimberly Davis” signed to the document. It was another “person” — the legal fiction, County Clerk Kim Davis, who did. That “Kim Davis” has no conscience, no beliefs, celebrates no birthdays, does not marry, etc.

When I go abroad, I am still me in all senses of personhood—except those now constructed for me according to that other nation’s legal system. Kim’s in the same situation. If one reads carefully under Kim Davis’ signature, the clue to the existence of her name as a legal fictional person is there, namely, “County Clerk,” I believe.

So, perhaps an easy way out of this is simply for Ms. Davis to take use another name as her legal fiction identity as County Clerk—like an actor with a stage name.

I’m sure there are people on both the left and right of this controversy who would have suggestions.

And now, how about those civics classes?