Kim Davis owes her notoriety to her legal enablers, Liberty Counsel, a right-wing group dedicated to the belief that having your client thrown in jail is the pinnacle of success. The Rowan County, KY clerk was a nobody in need of a makeover until Liberty Counsel swooped in and made her the national test case for the right of government officials to ignore the law. Besides all the attention that Davis received for her time in jail, Liberty Counsel somehow snagged a meeting for Davis with Pope Francis, a PR disaster for the Vatican and a fundraising windfall for Liberty Counsel.
Liberty Counsel came by Davis easily enough. The group’s founder, Mat Staver, received his law degree from the University of Kentucky. His advice to Davis hasn’t exactly covered his alma mater in glory. A panel on Fox News said that Staver’s advice was “ridiculously stupid,” which is quite the statement to come from that media outlet.
But then again, “ridiculously stupid” would be a good motto for Liberty Counsel. So would “unabashedly loathsome.” The Southern Poverty Law Center has classified Liberty Counsel as a hate group.
With good reason. Staver fairly froths at the mouth when he talks about homosexuality. Some of his comments are just loony. He has described gay relationships as “notoriously harmful, physically as well as mentally.” He has argued that hate crime laws would protect “cross dressers and pedophiles.” Nondiscrimination protections will result in “a general persecution or certainly a significant discrimination against people of faith.”
Too often, Staver is offensive and downright dangerous. He reveled in telling one Christian right gathering about an unnamed relative dying from AIDS. He’s a leading crusader for reparative therapy for kids.
Moreover, he’s one of the religious right figures who has been exporting his brand of homophobia to other countries, now that the U.S. is less fertile ground for hatred. Last year, Staver spoke to members of the Peruvian parliament, where he was presented with a medal of honor. Staver has served as legal counsel to Scott Lively, whose troubles with the law stem from his support for Uganda’s extreme antigay legislation. Just to let you know where his own loyalties lie, Staver has spoken fondly of Russia’s antigay laws.
Staver has also been closely involved in the case of Lisa Miller, the self-proclaimed ex-lesbian who defied a court order giving custody of their daughter to her former partner. For years, Miller was a key figure in Liberty Counsel’s antigay portfolio, until she apparently fled the country illegally with her daughter. A network of Liberty Counsel supporters and associates were alleged to have helped Miller, leading to a tangled case that may have contributed to Staver’s decision to step down as dean of Liberty Law School.
In light of all this, it comes as no surprise that Staver’s relationship with the truth is a bit strained. When asked about his pro-Russia comments by U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen at a Congressional hearing on religious freedom laws, Staver said, “I haven’t spoken on the Russian laws.”
The casual disregard for veracity is a hallmark of Staver and Liberty Counsel. Last month Liberty Counsel was called out for circulating a photo that it purported was a gathering of 100,000 Peruvians offering their support for Davis. Needless to say, it was nothing of the kind. Staver also repeatedly claimed that the hosts of The View “were calling her a monster, calling for her to be killed.” He later said that he made a mistake. No kidding.
All of which plays into the the brouhaha over the papal meeting. Given this track record, who are you going to believe? The pope or the guy who once tried to sue a Florida library for promoting witchcraft because it gave certificates to kids who read Harry Potter books?
Still, Staver is a pal of papal nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, whom Staver met at an anti-marriage equality reality last spring. (Just to show you how self-contained the antigay universe is, they were introduced by long-time activist Keith Fornier, a Catholic deacon, who argues that Davis doesn’t have to follow the Supreme Court ruling because it happened after she was elected.) Staver seemed to be referring to Viganò when he said that the Vatican’s backpedaling on the Davis meeting was a sign that “somebody is trying to throw some people under the bus.”
We may never know the truth of the matter. It serves the Vatican’s cause to be ambiguous even as it sticks to its condemnation of homosexuality. What we’re left with is Staver saying that the Vatican’s story is “absolute nonsense.” One thing you can’t dispute: if anyone knows about absolute nonsense, it’s Staver.