Kim Davis, Once Jailed in America, Campaigns Against Gay Marriage in Romania

The Kentucky official who was jailed in 2015 for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples has been advocating against gay marriage this week thousands of miles from home — in Romania, where a movement to outlaw such unions has gained momentum.

Few people in Romania appear to know about the case of Kim Davis, the clerk for Rowan County, Ky., but local gay and transgender rights groups were unhappy about her visit. Some described her as a foreign interloper who had violated the laws in her own country.

Same-sex marriage is not permitted in Romania, but conservatives there have waged a battle to explicitly prohibit it, via a constitutional amendment.

“We invite Kim Davis to share with us her fight for freedom, her strong faith and her experience in prison, which was the price she paid for standing up for her faith,” Mihai Gheorghiu, president of the Coalition for Family, which is leading the fight to outlaw same-sex marriage, said in a statement on Wednesday.

The trip was organized by Liberty Counsel, a conservative American legal and advocacy group that represented Ms. Davis during the 2015 legal battle that saw her spend six days in jail for contempt of court. Ms. Davis’s actions, which came at a watershed moment for gay-rights advocates, reverberated across the country and led to lawsuits.

In both Kentucky and Romania, Ms. Davis described same-sex marriage as an attack on religious freedom.

But Vlad Viski, the president of MozaiQ, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender group in Romania, denounced the visit.

“It is extremely worrying that a person who broke the law in the United States is being brought to Romania and presented as some sort of hero of Christianity,” he said on Wednesday.

Romania’s Marriage Debate

During Ms. Davis’s visit, she attended events in six cities, met with civic and political leaders and gave interviews with journalists. She told the online news platform Stiripesurse that her opposition to same-sex marriage was based on a desire to protect “the natural family” — and not on homophobia.

“I want to give Romanians hope that they can stand strong and they can stand for something without being against a group of people or whatever,” she said. “You can be for something and not be against something else.”

Ms. Davis has lent her support to a cause that has been making strides in Romania, a mostly Orthodox Christian country that decriminalized homosexuality in 2001. The Romania Constitution describes marriage in gender-neutral language, “two spouses.” Although civil law defines marriage as a union of a man and a woman, conservative groups want to pass a constitutional prohibition against legal recognition of same-sex marriages.

In 2016, three million people — out of a population of 20 million — signed a petition that called for the constitutional definition of marriage to be restricted to unions between “a man and a woman.”

Romania’s Constitutional Court accepted the validity of the proposal in July that year, and the Chamber of Deputies, Romania’s lower house of Parliament, voted in favor of moving forward with the referendum. A vote is expected in the Senate soon.

L.G.B.T. Groups Are Aghast

Ms. Davis’s visit alarmed local gay-rights activists, who scoffed at the notion that their country should be taking constitutional advice from an American who had been jailed for defying a court order.

“It is unacceptable for a person who disobeyed her own Constitution to tour Romania and give out advice about how Romania’s Constitution should be changed,” Mr. Viski said.

Mr. Viski added that he was concerned by the role of Liberty Counsel, which he said had “found powerful allies such as the Romanian Orthodox Church” in an international campaign against gay rights.

Another Romanian L.G.B.T. group, Accept, posted an open letter on Tuesday asking the management of the National Theater Bucharest, one of the venues that hosted an event with Ms. Davis, to dissociate itself from the event and those who had organized it.

The letter said the organizers had “falsely” promoted “Christian hero Kim Davis, an American citizen convicted by U.S. courts in 2015,” as a “heroine of religious freedom.”

Prisoner of Conscience?

To Ms. Davis’s supporters in both countries, she is not a run-of-the-mill lawbreaker, but a former prisoner of conscience in a larger cultural and religious battle.

Asked by the Romanian newspaper Adevarul what message she wanted to send, Ms. Davis replied: “What I can safely say is that if the family was defined in the Constitution as a union between a man and a woman, I would not have spent six days in prison.”

Mr. Gheorghiu, of the Coalition for Family, described Ms. Davis as “a good” and “humble” person, and said her visit was “the consequence of intolerance and abusive minority dictate.”

That language was echoed by Liberty Counsel, which said in a statement that same-sex “marriage” — it used the quotation marks — and religious freedom were “mutually exclusive.”

Harry Mihet, the group’s vice president, who had traveled with Ms. Davis to his native Romania, compared the campaign against same-sex marriage there to the country’s struggle against Communism.

Romanians “can still remember the not-so-long-ago days when they were themselves persecuted and imprisoned for their conscience,” Mr. Mihet said in a statement. He added: “Romanians are determined to prevent such injustice from ever happening again in their country.”