Kentucky marriage license mess
Making same-sex marriage the law of the land is one thing.
Making same-sex marriage acceptable all across the land is quite another thing.
The problem now is in the details of the marriage license form.
In the United States, a country based on laws, you can disagree with a law but that doesn’t give you the right to act contrary to it.
Case in point: A Kentucky county clerk was jailed last Thursday after she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis then appealed the judge’s decision to put her in jail. And yesterday, she was released from jail and ordered by the court not to interfere any more with the other staff members in her office that have taken over the task of issuing marriage licenses.
County clerk Davis said she objects to same-sex marriage for religious reasons. She stopped issuing all marriage licenses in June, it was reported, after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide. Two gay couples and two straight couples sued her.
A lot of Americans feel the same way about same-sex marriage as the county clerk, including me. The difference is that the county clerk is being paid by the government to perform certain duties - like issuing marriage licenses. That’s her job.
A district court judge in Kentucky ordered Davis to issue the licenses and the Supreme Court upheld that ruling. But Davis still refused to do it, saying she could not betray her conscience.
Last Thursday, Davis was found to be in contempt of court and jailed. Her deputy clerks then issued marriage licenses to gay couples Friday with Davis behind bars.
Kentucky law requires marriage licenses to be issued under the authority of the elected county clerk. Davis said she views issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples as a stamp of approval of something she believes is a sin. She has said she won’t issue marriage licenses until the state legislature changes the law so the licenses can be issued under someone else’s authority.
The state legislature is not scheduled to meet again until next January and the Kentucky governor said he will not call a special session on the matter.
Davis also refuses to resign from her $80,000 per year job as county clerk. As an elected official, the only way she could lose her job is to lose an election or have the state legislature impeach her.
The attorney for Davis says she is “doing what Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about in his letter from the Birmingham Jail,’’ which is to pay the consequences for her decision. In this case, the consequence may be that she loses her job.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that all people, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation should be allowed to marry and enter into a civil union.
By refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Davis is acting contrary to the Supreme Court ruling and is not fulfilling the duties of her job. She is also denying others the same Civil Rights that she so strongly defends for herself.
Staff members in her office are now issuing the marriage licenses, so maybe Davis will be able to keep her job.
Changing the marriage license form, eliminating the county clerk’s name from the form altogether, seems like the obvious fix to this mess. For now.