08 September 2015

On marriage licenses and equality

Bo and I picked up our marriage license this morning in preparation for our wedding in about three weeks.

We didn't have any problems getting the license, and were congratulated by two staff members. In fact, the woman who helped us was even apologetic that the license says "groom," and said we could cross it out if we wanted to.*

And I couldn't help but thinking that I'm glad we don't live in Kentucky, where Kim Davis made the decision that her personal beliefs gave her justification to willfully defy a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court and refuse to issue marriage licenses in order to prevent from "participating" in the sin that is same-sex marriage.

I haven't blogged about Kim Davis. I've shared articles on Facebook here and there, and talked about it quite a bit with Bo. But I've been sort of avoiding talking about it here until more news came out. I thought it would be settled by now and I'd be able to write about it with a better understanding of the overall situation.

In case you don't know what's been going on, here are the highlights:

  • Kim Davis, a circuit clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky, is a born-again Christian (she was saved four years ago) in a conservative denomination that condemns homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
  • Following the ruling by the Supreme Court, Davis made the decision to not issue marriage licenses because her name is on the application (as the clerk), and she believes that her name on the licenses makes her party to gay marriage and culpable in these people's sins.
  • Despite Davis's efforts to legally allow this ban through her claim that issuing the licenses discriminates against her religious practices, all of her appeals failed, leading SCOTUS to issue a one-line ruling upholding the previous ruling that said she must issue licenses.
  • When she continued to refuse, including instructing her deputy clerks that they were also not permitted to issue licenses, she was held in contempt of court. The judge told her that she would not be jailed if she would allow the deputy clerks to issue licenses in her stead, which she refused.
  • She has been jailed for contempt of court. The judge told the deputy clerks that they could either issue licenses or join her in jail. Five of the six (the one hold-out being her son) agreed to issue licenses.
  • Kim Davis is still in jail, and has attempted to file a new appeal.

Image source
There are a lot of factors in this case. On one hand, Kim Davis has a sincerely held belief that by issuing marriage licenses to queer couples, she is not only condoning the sin/behavior, but is equal part in it because her name is on the form. She is signing off on the marriage. I can see how she interprets that as her acceptance of same-sex marriage as an institution in the United States. Her signature makes the union legal in the county, so her signature says, "Yes, these two individuals are married."

That's one of the things she has a problem with. If her name/signature wasn't on the form, I believe she would still have refused to issue licenses, but that's a separate issue.

However, she's overreaching quite a bit. Not only did she take it too far by refusing to allow the deputy clerks to issue licenses, thereby putting their jobs in jeopardy (not to mention risking jail time), but she is also taking it too far by claiming that issuing licenses to same-sex couples (which, let's be honest, is the main component of her position as an elected official) constitutes religious discrimination.

I fail to see how issuing licenses with your name on them discriminates against you as a religious individual. So did the court.

Because, when you really look at the situation, you have to remember that the founding fathers established a concept called "separation of church and state," for this very reason. Allowing government officials, like county clerks, to make decisions and enact policies based on their individual religious beliefs and practices is dangerously close to sanctioning a state church. (Kind of the whole reason people left England to begin with, yanno?)

When she goes to work, she is no longer a private citizen. She is an elected official. Her religious beliefs don't matter because she wasn't elected and is not employed by the church or even by Christians. She is beholden to the law, when she took an oath** as an elected official, she swore to uphold the law and the Constitution, which now includes marriage equality in the nation. She can't just not follow certain laws because she doesn't like them or agree with them. Our nation doesn't work that way.

And, just as importantly, legalities of her duties aside, her rights only extend as far as someone else's. When she refused to issue marriage licenses, she violated the rights of the couples who were refused. And she can't do that, either.

One of the many problems with this situation is that, as an elected official, she can't just be fired. There's a whole process to remove her from office through impeachment. But she is finally being held accountable for her failure to do her job. And I hope that Rowan County (and Kentucky) continue to follow through with that.

Of course, the conservatives are having a field day now that she's in jail. She's become a martyr for the cause, with her husband even comparing her to the Biblical figures of Silas and Paul who were imprisoned for their adherence to their beliefs.

No. No.

She's not a martyr. She's not a conservative Christian hero. She's a small-minded woman who let her personal feelings and beliefs justify breaking hte law and is now being called to account for it.

Mark 12:17, y'all.

She may be a Christian, and may believe that she must ultimately answer to her god. But even Jesus recognized and accepted that there are laws and expectations set up on earth that Christians must adhere to. You can't claim god as a justification for breaking the law and defying a court ruling.

She's learning that the hard way. It's too bad that most of her fans won't really get the lesson, anyway.

*Bo said she doesn't care that it says groom. All she cares about is that it's legal for us to get married.

**The teachings of her denomination encourages members not to take oaths for this very reason, actually. When the oath conflicts with religious beliefs, it causes this kind of dilemma.


  1. I'm a Christian, and I support gay marriage; I think it's ironic that people like Kim Davis, who have been married and divorced multiple times, act like they're "protecting" the institution of marriage. Gay people shouldn't have to fight for rights they're actually entitled to. I've read that even a lot of conservative people who oppose gay marriage don't support Kim Davis, because she continues to collect an 80k salary even though she's not doing her job. Apparently she thinks it's perfectly okay to get paid for not working, which is greedy, and greed is a sin.

    1. Her marital status really has no bearing on the law, though it does make for juicy gossip. And, if you get into the heart of it, she was born again only four years ago, and has been married to the same man in that entire time. So her previous marriages/divorces are part of her old, sinful life. She doesn't feel badly about them because her salvation means she's forgiven for them.


Add a little caffeine to my life...