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Kentucky County Gets Media Attention Over Clerk's Stand On Marriage


You heard a man there referring to a small town making national news. The Kim Davis case has called attention to a region that is rarely in the news. Eastern Kentucky is mountainous. It's traditional coal mining country, also traditional tobacco farming country, although much has changed over the years. It is also home to the novelist Silas House, who grew up in the region. He is a professor at Eastern Kentucky's Berea College. Welcome to the program, sir.

SILAS HOUSE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How do you describe the region to people who've never been there?

HOUSE: Oh, I tell people that it's a place with hard-working people, complex people who are often not seen as complex. They're often simplified. And I think, you know, people here think a lot about these issues and have complicated feelings about all of it.

INSKEEP: You know, I'm thinking about the long-term effects of this on the region. And I'm remembering that not long ago, the state of Indiana passed a religious freedom law that was seen by many across the country is discriminatory. There was a national outcry, and people in Indiana very quickly decided they did not want any part of that outcry. They did not want that law, and it was very quickly withdrawn. It changed public opinion. Now we have a situation where a county clerk is refusing. And it's clear that people on her side of the issue are hoping to spark some kind of national movement in her favor, but you also have a region that, again, is getting lots of attention. Do you think this is changing anybody's mind in Eastern Kentucky - this story?

HOUSE: I definitely think it is. I mean, I've had conversations with many people I know who are very conservative, who are - who even go to churches like Kim Davis. And they tell me that they think she should do her job and that if she believes so strongly in this, that she quit her job and that she shouldn't be on the payroll of a government who, you know - this is the law of the land. If she believes in it so strongly, she should just quit. And I also think that this kind of thought isn't exclusive to the South or Appalachia - certainly not to Kentucky. I've seen it happen all over the world. And I think when people insist that it is exclusive to this region, they're giving their own communities a free pass and patting themselves on the back to say, oh, those hillbillies might be backward like this, but we are not. But we all know that racism, homophobia and discrimination happens everywhere. It's not a Kentucky problem, but a global one. In this case, it's a Kim Davis problem.

INSKEEP: Let me ask one other question. It sounds like you disagree with Kim Davis' views in this case, and you've argued for a more complex view of Eastern Kentucky. Would you also, as a novelist and a native of the region, argue for a more complicated view of Kim Davis? This is somebody who has been scorned, has been greeted with dismay in many quarters. Are there people who disagree with her who ought to think of her in a more complicated way?

HOUSE: Well, I do think of her in that complicated way. I come from a family with a very similar religious background. And I think that helps me to see her in a more complex way because, I mean, just yesterday, I was having conversations with many of the people in my family about this. And they had really diverse reactions as to what she was doing. I think, ultimately, she is being paid to do a job that she's not doing. And I think a whole lot of people I know in Eastern Kentucky always have a problem when somebody's being paid and they're not doing their job correctly. So, you know, I don't mean to negate her beliefs or her as a human being in any way, I just believe that what she's doing, I personally disagree with. I certainly do, but I think when it comes down to it, the issue is she has a job to do. And if she doesn't want to do it, she should resign.

INSKEEP: Silas House, novelist and professor at Berea College in Kentucky. Thanks very much.

HOUSE: Thank you. Have a good day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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