Kim Davis is a county clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky. Upon being sworn in, she vowed to discharge the duties of her office, one of which is certifying marriage licenses for the county. Ms. Davis has recently made headlines for refusing to certify licenses for homosexual couples on the grounds that it goes against her faith. A court ordered her to resume certifying all legal licenses (which, since the Obergefell v. Hodges, includes same sex applications). When she refused, she was jailed for contempt of court. She was released only when her deputies resumed certification in her stead. Meanwhile she has found support from a number of people, including conservative presidential candidates, who argue that she’s been imprisoned for following her beliefs, and that it’s unconstitutional because it interferes with her freedom to practice her religion.
The hypocrisy of the entire situation is so staggering I am reluctant to dignify it with a response, but her supporters simply cannot be left to continue unchallenged.
First of all, she seems to be rather selective with the biblical passages she endorses. It doesn’t seem to trouble her that by refusing to certify these marriages she’s violating Deuteronomy 17:12 and Numbers 30:2 by breaking a vow (which she happened to make on a bible) and ignoring a judge. Nor does it trouble her that according to that same bible, she’s currently committing adultery (this is her fourth husband. She got married, had an affair and two children by another man, divorced, married yet another man, divorced him, married the father of her children, divorced him, and is now on her fourth marriage, which is an act of adultery against her first). She is married to him only under the certification of clerks willing to keep their noses out of her business. She seems to be far more consumed by the sins of others than her own. She picks and chooses which laws she approves of, and then finds a defense for them post hoc; The most common defense for this kind of thing is that these laws are in the Old Testament, and can safely ignored under the new covenant; the ban on homosexuality is from Corinthians, and thus still applies (see angels on the head of a pin). But the Ten Commandments are supposed to be followed, and they’re in the Old Testament, and Jesus seemed to endorse Old Testament law in Matthew. It’s all up to interpretation. The truth is that people almost never change their beliefs to the teachings of the church; rather they pick a church which justifies the beliefs they already hold.
Her supporters argue that people should never be “persecuted” for their faith. But had she been Muslim, is there any doubt that these same people would have argued that she must follow the laws of this country regardless of her faith? If she believed that the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” prohibits self-defense, can she deny gun licenses? Could she deny interracial marriages (also prohibited by the bible)? Can Buddhists refuse to pay taxes that go to military spending? Can Muslim clerks refuse to give out liquor licenses?
If so, how high does this go? Does this mean that all public officials can ignore any law that violates their faith—or any law that they just don’t like? Given that you can justify nearly any position as “faith” (look at the prosperity Gospel), couldn’t anyone defend any preference as faith? Where is the line drawn, and who makes that determination? Certainly I don’t see enough evidence of the practice of Christian faith in Ms. Davis’ life to suggest this is anything but personal choice.
Ironically, Ms. Davis hasn’t even been asked to violate her faith in any way.
Her job is to tally the legal requirements for a marriage, and certify that those requirements have been met. That’s it. It’s not her job to make those requirements, add or amend requirements, or to condemn or condone the requirements or those getting married. Further, she has no right to do so. She is an elected representative of the people, and if she is unwilling to simply determine the legal status of a couple seeking marriage, as she has sworn to do, then she should resign or be removed.
She did not go to jail for practicing her religion, but rather for using her public office to force others to practice it.
If we grant her license to do this, then all public officials must be allowed to impose articles of their faith on others—a position which every one of the founding fathers clearly rejected—so strongly, in fact, that they made it the very first clause, of the very first amendment, to the Constitution. Being a public official is not easy, and it’s not for everyone. She swore an oath to uphold the laws of this country, not of her choosing. Allowing her to use her political power to impose her personal views on others is the very definition, not of freedom and democracy, but of tyranny and theocracy. Maddison called this very sort of thing “an arrogant pretension” and “an unhallowed perversion of the means of salvation”, and opposition to it must be full and unwavering.