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Kim Davis just a footnote in battle for U.S. pluralism

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis cries out after

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis cries out after being released from the Carter County Detention Center, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, in Grayson, Ky. Credit: AP

Kim Davis wants to be the face of religious objection to the legalization of same-sex marriage, but she's more likely to be a footnote to a Supreme Court case defining the scope of religious liberty.

Davis, the clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, was jailed for five days for disobeying a federal judge who ordered her to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. She was back at work Monday, but still defiant. Instead, her deputies issued the marriage certificates, newly amended with the words "pursuant to federal court order" but without her name.

The refusal by Davis to do her job is simply wrong. She's an elected official who swore an oath to uphold the constitutions of the United States and Kentucky.

Davis is a symbol, however, for those who disagree for religious reasons with June's Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same-sex marriage. Their feelings are strong and heartfelt and the court will have to balance their rights with those who claim that those beliefs discriminate. The case of a florist, baker or photographer, for example, who refuses the business of a same-sex couple is likely to be the test case that reaches the court. Or perhaps it will come from a school run by a religious institution that won't recognize gay student groups.

The growing movement to carve out a First Amendment exception based on personal beliefs is likely to center on same-sex marriage, but the underlying principle is a broad one. A Muslim flight attendant has filed a grievance with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for being forced to serve alcoholic drinks to passengers, which is against her Islamic faith. These cases will be the next battleground in defining the nation's pluralism, but Davis' case surely is not.