Rowan County clerk Kim Davis was jailed in Kentucky on Thursday night for refusing to issue marriages licenses to same-sex couples who came in to her office. Ever since the Supreme Court’s June ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, Davis instructed her staff not to issue gay marriage licenses and has requested that she be allowed to continue in this practice, citing her faith in God as the reason she cannot morally do so. Three different courts–including the Supreme Court–have now declared Davis’s act unconstitutional, and her refusal on Tuesday to rescind her prior commitment has led to her being jailed for following her faith before the law.
Technically, the logic being followed by those who condemn Davis is one that would remove Christians from public office altogether if they are not willing to sacrifice their personal beliefs at the altar of government.
Kim Davis is allowed to be a Christian who works as a county clerk, proponents of this logic would argue, as long as she checks her beliefs at the door and goes to work as little more than a prototype who thoughtlessly follows whatever commands are placed before her. Their logic states that Davis cannot hold a government job while retaining personal convictions and have the ability to exercise said convictions if it might hurt someone else’s feelings.
In a way, Davis’s case can be compared to the situation that faced a Colorado bakery owner who refused service to a gay couple because it violated his religious beliefs. Just like there were dozens of other cake shops that couple could have taken their business to, there are one-hundred-twenty-seven other clerks in Kentucky (Davis is one of only three in the state who oppose same-sex marriage) who can issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple. If the license is truly all that matters, a couple should have no problem driving a few extra minutes to a clerk who would congratulate them on their union as he or she signed the papers over.
From that standpoint, this case isn’t at all about the marriage license. Instead, it is a direct attack against Christian beliefs and those who stand for them even in the face of looming punishment. It’s not about following the rule of law, especially when there are blatant cases of ignoring the law that go unnoticed when the shoe is on the other foot.
There is, however, another side to this, and Charles Cooke lays it out perfectly over at NRO: Kim Davis is a government official, not a private actor. Thus, her job is (rightfully) dictated by what the law says, whether she agrees with it or not. Regardless of anyone’s personal opinions, the lack of jurisdiction, or the lack of such a right even constitutionally existing, the Supreme Court upheld same-sex marriage in a ruling that transcended all state laws on the matter. Because of this, Davis has an obligation to comply with the law when she is acting in an official capacity as a government employee. Her refusal to issue certain licenses reflects badly on her ability to perform her job, primarily because she views her beliefs as more “right” than everyone else’s.
Though that’s a broad generalization, but it is certainly a legitimate argument against Davis’s actions. Perhaps, some might say, she should just find another job that does not force her to violate her beliefs. No harm done: she can keep her beliefs and not stand in the way of the new law being enforced.
But is it really that simple? Is it so straightforward that one can argue one side or the other with no doubts? Throwing Davis in jail was certainly an extreme gesture: even the plaintiffs in the case only requested that she be fined.
Questions are still swirling about just how much the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell will affect Christians’ abilities to live out their faith, and the case of Kim Davis is just one more scenario in which we wait to see which side trumps the other and comes out ahead.