On Tuesday evening, President Barack Obama will deliver his final State of the Union address. Both James Obergefell and Kim Davis will be in attendance.
James Obergefell is the guest of first lady Michelle Obama. He sued the state of Ohio in 2013 after it refused to recognize his marriage to John Arthur on Arthur’s death certificate. Obergefell and Arthur were together for 21 years. For the last two, Obergefell took care of Arthur as he died of ALS. Obergefell and Arthur wed on the tarmac of the Baltimore airport in the final days of Arthur’s life, since Maryland recognized same-sex marriages at the time. His suit against Ohio reached the Supreme Court, which used it as a vehicle to invalidate same-sex marriage bans in every state, bringing marriage equality to the entire country. “Today’s ruling,” Obergefell said following the decision, “affirms what millions across this country already know to be true in our hearts: Our love is equal.”
Kim Davis will not reveal who invited her to the State of the Union address, nor will the Liberty Counsel, the far-right fringe group that represents her. However, the Washington Examiner reports that her invitation was arranged by the Family Research Council, an anti-LGBT hate group. She has been married four times. She refused to issue marriage licenses following the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell because she personally opposed same-sex marriage. She also barred anyone in the county clerk’s office from issuing such licenses. After a federal district judge ordered her office to resume issuing licenses, Davis appealed his order to the Supreme Court, and lost unanimously. But Davis still refused to issue licenses, citing “God’s authority.” She was then jailed for contempt of court for several days. After her release, Davis illegally tampered with same-sex marriage licenses issued by her office, possibly in an attempt to render them invalid. The couples whom Davis turned away were profoundly traumatized by the experience.
Asked about Davis’ invitation, Obergefell responded:
To me it doesn’t seem the right venue to promote divisiveness or to support or encourage a public official refusing to serve the entire public, especially when they’ve taken an oath to uphold the laws of their state and the Constitution, but again it’s the United States and she has as much right to be in that chamber as I do or anyone else does. I can agree to disagree with her position and those who support her, but she has the right to be there.
Asked about Obergefell’s invite, Mat Staver, Davis’ attorney at the Liberty Counsel, responded:
I think that’s the reason why Kim Davis … was invited to be in the gallery during the State of the Union address—because President Obama does not represent the American people. He has divided the country over the issue of religious freedom and marriage, and Kim Davis represents a wide margin of people that do not support his policies with regard to religious freedom and marriage and the sanctity of human life. And so she is coming to the State of the Union to represent those millions and millions of Americans that President Obama has ignored and frankly has not represented. So she is going to be there, I’ll be there as well, and I think it will show the contrast.
In at least one sense, Staver is indisputably correct. Kim Davis and James Obergefell are a true study in contrasts.
*Update, Jan. 12, 2016: This post has been updated with Mat Staver’s comment.
See more of Slate’s State of the Union coverage.