On July 26, the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all states with a 5-4 ruling. However, not everyone agreed with that decision. Many people, mostly varying stripes of Christians, continued to vocally and fervently voice their opinions on same-sex marriage and homosexuality as a whole. This is still constitutionally protected free speech. But disagreeing with a law does not give someone the right to not follow it.
Kim Davis, the Kentucky court clerk, thinks otherwise. She refused to issue any marriage licenses—to same-sex and opposite-sex couples—following the Court’s ruling. She believed that granting a same-sex marriage license would violate her closely held religious beliefs. She believes that fulfilling her duty as a county clerk and issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples would be akin to her promoting same-sex marriage, which she believes goes against God’s definition of marriage. Davis said she was acting under “God’s authority” when she turned away couples seeking marriage licenses.
However, America is not a theocracy. There is now a firm separation between church and state on matters such as marriage. Same-sex marriage is legal (finally), and every couple has the right to get married regardless of sexual orientation. Kim Davis is a public employee. She is an elected official, and her salary comes from taxes. In her official capacity as a county clerk, she cannot deny same-sex couples marriage licenses.
Various judges and courts have agreed with this sentiment. Judge Burning initially issued a stay that barred her from refusing future marriage license requests. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit declined to extend that stay to an appeal, as in that three-judge panel’s unanimous opinion, her argument would be indefensible in court. Davis then filed an emergency petition to the Supreme Court. The Court refused to hear her appeal. This brings her back to Burning, who in lieu of fines—which the plaintiffs sought—gave her jail time.
Davis was released from jail on the condition that she would not interfere directly or indirectly with her deputy clerks issuing marriage licenses. However, she has very recently altered the forms for new marriage licenses so that they do not have her name on them, and is making the deputy clerks issuing the licenses initial instead of sign them. I believe that this is an effort to interfere with the process, and violates the Judge’s order that she not interfere with her clerks issuing marriage licenses.
But this whole situation is ridiculous–absolutely ridiculous. Kim Davis is an elected official who is required to follow the law regardless of her religious convictions. In my opinion, she has two options: issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, or resign. There is no middle ground. The first amendment does allow for the free exercise of religion. However, the government cannot endorse any religious views. It may give certain reasonable accommodations, such as allowing a Muslim woman to wear a hijab when the company uniform would otherwise mandate not wearing any sort of headgear. In this example, wearing a hijab would not interfere with her ability to perform her job. Creating an exception for Davis, on the other hand, entangles religious views with government policy, and is implicitly approving of these views. Allowing Kim Davis to not fully fulfill her duty as a county clerk, and decline to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, does not constitute a reasonable accommodation.
Some clerks in other parts of the country have actually resigned rather than issue same-sex marriage licenses. In Texas, Joyce Lewis-Kugle resigned because the laws she made an oath to uphold changed following the Supreme Court decision and she did not support same-sex marriage. This is a great example of what Kim Davis could have done to avert this fiasco. These two clerks are government employees, and as a result, have limitations on where and how they can follow their religious beliefs.
But there are many people who support her. A number of republican presidential candidates support her position. Senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, and governors Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal all support the idea that she should be allowed to exercise her religious beliefs while acting in her capacity as a county clerk. The other republican candidates either support an accommodation or do not support her position. Everyone has a right to their opinion, but some opinions matter more than others, such as the idea that being a county clerk does not mean one can pick and choose which laws to follow.
Overall, this issue could have been avoided if Davis followed the law in the first place, without taking the issue to court. If it does violate her sincerely held religious beliefs, she can resign. And, even if an exception were to be made, it would be the start of a slippery slope, where religion would become excessively entangled in government policy and break down the wall between church and state.
McCarthy is a member of the Class of 2018.