Director, Commonwealth Policy Center

On Thursday, September 3rd Federal District Judge David Bunning held Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis in contempt of court for her refusal as County Clerk to issue any marriage license after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of redefined marriage. Citing her Christian faith, Davis objected to affixing her name to a marriage license for same-sex couples because it would mean an endorsement of a union that violates her religious belief. Davis has held to her religious liberty objection, even after a federal judge ordered her to begin issuing licenses consistent the Supreme Court’s decision in June. This disobedience placed her behind bars until September 8th.

The Kim Davis situation brings up important discussions about the nature of religious liberty and the proper use of it for those who may wish to appeal to conscience for their objections. There can be disagreement among those who would sympathize with Davis’s convictions. A case can be made that if an elected official cannot perform her duties to uphold the laws it is equally as principle to resign, as it is to disobey those laws. A “we obey God rather than men” can take on various forms, one of which is resignation. Naturally this welcomes a discussion about the trajectory of this country and where it would leave statecraft if Christians in public office left in droves from resignation. I don’t see that as a necessary path from a potential Davis resignation, but it is an implication worth discussing.  A case can also be made that Davis is merely executing civil disobedience, and accepting the consequences of her refusal to perform her duties. After all she continues to sit in jail rather than relent, and she doesn’t seem to be bending to the power of the state anytime soon. Principled men and women, in this case, can disagree on the path an individual must take on the road to disagreement with the state.

It seems to be both proper and accommodating for the Kentucky legislature to draft accommodation statutes like that of North Carolina. Foreseeing potential conflicts with the coming SCOTUS decision, North Carolina enacted laws that would allow officials who object to same-sex marriage to recuse themselves from solemnizing a ceremony or clerks from issuing marriage licenses. The individuals would still be able to get married and have marriage licenses issued, but it would also allow those who object to such ceremonies to back away without violating their conscience or find themselves unable to perform their duties. 

One of the more revealing points about the issue is why, precisely, has Kentucky’s legislature not taken the necessary steps to institute such provisions? Governor Beshear was quick to issue a statement ordering all clerks to issue licenses consistent with the SCOTUS decision, but why has the Governor or state legislature not taken proactive steps to prevent the problems that rose to the fore in Rowan County? A simple executive order or special session seems to be a common sense starting point to resolve any future issues. The saving of taxpayer money is not a viable excuse. It is essential that we protect religious freedoms for the entire commonwealth, including those that have been elected to public offices.