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A Few Thoughts on Kim Davis

Kim DavisFor anyone who's been completely ignoring the news recently, Kim Davis is a county clerk in Kentucky who, despite the Supreme Court's recent ruling over marriage equality and in direct violation of a Federal District Court judge's order, refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. Her appeals were denied by the Supreme Court (understandably), so it all came down to the district judge, David L. Bunning, on what to do with her. Figuring that a fine wouldn't solve the problem because too many supporters would help Davis come up with the money, Bunning actually put Davis in jail for contempt of court. If you're wondering why Davis wasn't just fired from her job for refusing to perform, it's because she's an elected official, and the only way for elected officials to lose their jobs is to be impeached or to resign. If you're wondering why she didn't just resign when she could no longer perform her duties as an elected official - good question. Anyway, while she was jailed, the judge met with deputy clerks from her office, and five of six agreed to issue licenses. Knowing that residents of that county will now be able to receive marriage licenses, the judge has agreed to release Davis from jail, provided she "not interfere in any way, directly or indirectly, with the efforts of her deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples".

This situation is described in the NY Times article, Kim Davis Freed From Jail in Kentucky Gay Marriage Dispute. There's one part of the article that grabbed my attention and prompted me to write this entry:

Ms. Davis's argument and incarceration have resonated deeply among Christian conservatives, many of whom fear an erosion of religious liberty, and transformed the clerk of a rural Kentucky county into an unyielding symbol of opposition to same-sex marriage.

This is the part that I just don't get. 'Government' is composed of people. Government actions don't just magically happen. When someone says 'the government did this' or 'the government did that', what they really mean is 'some government employee did this' or 'some government employee did that', because it takes people to do things. Kim Davis is the government, at least in her little office in Kentucky. So, when a couple went up to the county clerk and asked for a marriage license, and the clerk refused for religious reasons, it was the government, by way of the clerk, refusing citizens' right to marriage for religious reasons. Those citizens were the ones whose rights were being denied. It was their religious liberty that was being infringed upon.

I don't see how somebody can look at this case, see citizens being denied a marriage license, and then somehow claim it was the government official who was being wronged. In fact, the judge didn't actually force Davis to issue marriage licenses against her will. Even before she was jailed, she always had the opportunity to allow her deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses, or if that was still too hard on her conscience, to step down from her position and resign. No one forced her to be county clerk.

This situation would be like a Catholic county clerk refusing to issue marriage licenses to anyone who wasn't a member of the one true holy and catholic apostolic church. How would the right-wing types who see Davis as a hero (who somewhat surprisingly is a Democrat herself) feel if it was them being refused a marriage license because they weren't members of her particular religion? I also wonder how Davis's supporters would feel about a government official refusing to issue a concealed carry permit because they had a conscientious objection to firearms? Would that official's freedom of conscience trump citizens' second amendment rights*? Of course not.

Seeing as how election season is now upon us, it's interesting to see how the various presidential candidates have reacted to this. I couldn't find one source that listed all the candidates positions (I didn't search long), but you can piece it all together from NPR, Mashable, and USA Today (more colorful commentary is available on Slate). In alphabetical order, Chris Christy, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, John Kasich, and The Donald have all come down in favor of rule of law and defense of citizens' religious liberty. The more extremists, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, and Scott Walker, have come down in support of Davis and government imposition of religion on citizens (of course all the while claiming it's Davis's religious right to oppress other citizens, but maybe not using those exact words). Jeb Bush sought a middle ground, trying to support Davis and the citizens' right to marriage licenses. Ben Carson, who originally seemed to support Judge Dunning, now seems to be changing his position, but his wording was vague enough that it's hard to know exactly where he stands (Right Wing Watch). And of course Hillary Clinton, being the only Democratic candidate the media seems to consider worthy of reporting on, is also in favor of rule of law and defense of citizens' religious liberty.

Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz responded particularly shamefully, actually heading down to Kentucky to stage a protest in support of Davis. When she was released from jail ahead of their protest, they turned it into a theatrical event, complete with Rocky theme music and a cheering crowd of supporters. And remember, this is all for a woman who used her position as a government official to oppress citizens of her county, and ignored the rule of law this country was built upon.

Image Source: TownNews.com

*Of course, as I've said before, I don't actually think the second amendment should be interpreted as an individual right. I agree with former Justice John Paul Stevens and his article, The five extra words that can fix the Second Amendment, that the amendment is all about maintaining a well regulated militia and not individual self defense. But, the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the law, so when they ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago that it was an individual right, that made it the law of the land.

Updated 2015-09-09: I just noticed after publishing this that Ben Carson seems to have changed his position, so I updated this post accordingly.

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